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Not Just Tech Bros


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Computer science professor Sara Sood, teaching.

Computer science professors at Northwestern University are working to increase the number of women and underrepresented minorities in computer science.

Credit: Northwestern Now

"I care a lot about getting women in computer science, but I'm more interested in making the environment such that whoever wants to be in computer science can be in computer science. That will only happen if we create the right culture."

Computer science professor Sara Sood is determined to increase the number of women and underrepresented groups in computer science. It's no secret that computer science lacks gender and racial/ethnic diversity: Women held just 25% of computing jobs in 2015, and access to opportunities is still limited for black and Hispanic students. The demographics of the field have become a cultural trope: young, white men in zip-up hoodies. But Sood knows that interest in computer science spans all backgrounds, and she's pushing to make the field more welcoming for everyone.

"The classroom can be a place where women and people who have less coding experience can get really discouraged," Sood says. "Especially because there are often students who ask questions like, 'I know how to program in 10 languages. For my startup that has angel funding, which of them should I use?' These are posturing, showing off questions, and they make other students feel like everyone here knows 10 languages, everyone has a startup, and you don't belong here if you don't."

No showing off

Sood now starts every course with a quick disclaimer: There will be no showing off here. If students have a question about their startup or side project, she will gladly meet them after class. Sood tells students that "Huh?" is a perfectly fair question, as is, "Can you repeat that?"

 

From Northwestern Now
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