Stanford women set to reclaim their place in the field of computer science

Some of the earliest women in computer science running the ENIAC at the University of Pennsylvania
thekirbster/Flickr
Computer science has finally come full circle — back to women. According to Stanford University’s latest survey of its upper-class students, the most popular major among women is now computer science, with 214 women planning to declare the field as their primary focus of study. This means that 30 percent of the projected Stanford CS majors will be women, a significant improvement over the national average of just 17 percent. And surprisingly, this actually means that we’re returning to the standards of several decades past, when women comprised between 30 and 50 percent of computer scientists — after all, it was six women who ran the ENIAC, one of the world’s very first computers, at the University of Pennsylvania back in the 1940s. So happy homecoming, programming. It’s nice to have you and women on the same page again.

Attributing the subject’s newfound (or perhaps, rediscovered) popularity among women to a more supportive environment, Eric Roberts, a Stanford professor emeritus of computer science who noticed the shift in female majors, said, “We’ve crossed that threshold where women feel supported and comfortable. What we need to do is not turn anyone away because they feel unsupported, and a vibrant core community with a critical mass is essential.” Currently, women at Stanford make up 49 percent of the student demographic, and computer science is the major of 20 percent of Stanford attendees.

Given that Stanford is practically the next door neighbor of the vibrant tech scene in Silicon Valley, it’s no wonder that the university often serves as a feeder into technical roles at a variety of startups. But of course, Silicon Valley has a rather unfortunate reputation of being decidedly homogenous, comprised almost exclusively of young, well-educated white men. And while not all of these adjectives can change simultaneously, many are hopeful that the rise of women in technical majors in schools will translate to the rise of women in technical positions at various companies.

So code away, women of Stanford. Silicon Valley needs you.

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