“Final” Project Proposal

Over the past week, I have been reflecting on how to give more structure to my original project proposal:

A year ago, if anyone had asked me about programming, I would have said something to the extent of “it’s okay” or “it’s really hard.” My freshman year, I was enrolled in an introductory programming class for engineers where we learned the fundamentals of MATLAB. After struggling through the class, I vowed to never take another programming class. Fast-forward a year, I found myself in a new major that required another series of computing classes: Introduction to Computer Science and Data Structures. 

As I became more familiar with the concepts of programming, I slowly fell in love with code. What once seemed like a series of rigid statements and loops evolved into a creative tool to solve problems.  When I tell people my major (TAM) or my interest in coding, they often say something to the extent of “wow, that’s hard” or “you must be really smart.” (Ironically, these are similar to my initial comments about programming.) There is a consistent stigma surrounding coding: that it is only for the “nerdy guys” or “intense gamers.”

The farther I advance in Computer Science classes, the more evident gender gaps within this space become. I see these same stigmas emphasized in my pure Computer Science classes: I am often only one of a handful of girls. While creating my mind map, I continued to draw back to gender divides. Therefore, through this project, I want to explore gender divides in technical areas, specifically programming. 

Since I am relatively new to the “programming sphere” I am still learning about the various spaces within coding; one of the main platforms I continue to hear about is “Open Source.” Open source content (in the context of code) means “denoting software for which the original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified” (Google dictionary). I see existing Open Source frameworks as a powerful medium through which to explore gender divides in technical communities. 

After some preliminary research, there is already some work being done at schools like Carnegie Mellon and University of California Berkeley to engage women in coding. In order to appeal to the female population, these universities are changing the names of course to sound more inclusive and creative. According to these articles, girls tend to be drawn more towards creative classes where they can work alongside others. Technical companies are also beginning to fund camps to introduce young girls to the fundamentals of coding.

While I don’t want to re-brand classes or create camps to engage women, I want to continue to the conversation on women in technology. I am still unsure as to my final deliverables; but, in general, I envision creating a tangible product (which incorporates open source code) that brings to light the impact of gender divides in technical spheres. 

The area I keep coming back to is this idea of “Open Source” and who is contributing to the community. So the next natural step? Google it. One of the first links that appeared after searching “women in computing projects” was titled “This Project – Notable Women in Computing Playing Cards.” Intrigued, I clicked on the link: http://www.notabletechnicalwomen.org/about/this-project/

After watching the brief introductory video to this kick starter, I realized the goal of this website was to raise awareness about the history women in computing rather than creating a project itself. While not the direction I was originally intending, the link lead me to an interesting remix for this week.

Women in Computing playing cards

A few google searches later about women’s contributions to open source projects lead me to sites detailing women’s engagement in computing projects via the LilyPad. The LilyPad is a type of micro-controller specifically made for fabric computation. The articles went on to detail how women are more attracted these types of projects because they better align with their interests.

“Some of the most revealing research in diversity in STEM found that women and other minorities don’t join STEM communities not because they are intimidated or unqualified but rather because they’re simply uninterested in these disciplines.” -Benjamin Mako Hill

“A study conducted by Jane Margolisand Allan Fisher at Carnegie Mellon showed that women were more likely to see computers as a tool they could use to advance their goals, while men were often interested in the machine as an end to itself.” -Skillcrush

The article “On Feminism and Microcontrollers” specifically detailed the numbers on women in physical computation:

“We found evidence to support the suggestion that LilyPad is disproportionally appealing to women, as compared to Arduino (we estimated that about 9% of Arduino purchasers were female while 35% of LilyPad purchasers were). We found evidence that suggests that a very large proportion of people making high-visibility projects using LilyPad are female as compared to Arduino (65% for LilyPad, versus 2% for Arduino)” -Benjamin Mako Hill

After reading a few of these articles, I started to think about how different types of micro-controllers appeal to different types of people. Thus for my project, I want to further narrow my focus to Open Source Projects created by women. In particular, I want to focus on why these projects are an important part of the conversation about women in computing.

At this point, I still see my final project as creating a physical compilation of open source projects. But, before completing narrowing my final objective, I want to research projects made by women which are currently available on open source platforms.

Links to sites referenced above:


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