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Could coding in schools help solve a major problem in the sector?

The reasons for teaching it in schools goes far beyond just getting a job.

PERCEPTIONS ARE DIFFICULT to change. Some are created by our environment, some of them are subconscious, we just grow up with them without questioning them and treat them as normal.

But whether we like it or not, once they’re set, they have a massive impact on what options we believe are available to us and the choices we make.

This applies to a lot of industries, but in the case of computer programming and IT, these biases mean the sector only really sees one main demographic take up roles instead of several. This is problematic when you consider that roughly 4,500 jobs in the sector are currently unfulfilled, and 10,000 more potential jobs could be left unfulfilled in the short-term.

Part of the solution is making the industry as appealing as possible to those who might never have considered it. If you spread the net as wide as possible and show that the industry doesn’t match the stereotypes, it could lead it to a better place.

That’s something Robin Hauser-Reynolds looks at in Code: Debugging the Gender Gap, a documentary which explores this problem.

The film, which is her second time as director and producer, looks at why there is a lack of women and minorities in computer science and what would change if this was addressed. It’s a broad topic that could branch off in a number of different areas, but keeping the focus was vital.

“Our story is about women in computer science, the lack of women in computer science and let’s find out why that’s happening,” explains Hauser-Reynolds. ”And yes, we have to acknowledge that this is an issue for men [and] for people of colour so we do mention that.”

It is a broad subject, and I truly believe that rather than trying to cover everything, it’s better to delve deep [into specific areas].

Source: Finish Line Features, LLC/Vimeo

During the production of Code, one of the surprising facts that she discovered was how the number of women in the industry has fallen in recent years. In the US, the percentage of women in computer programming was around 36% in the 1980s. Fast forward to today and that’s fallen to roughly 18%, a trend you could extend to most parts of the world.

Coding’s history has been filled with numerous women pushing it to the forefront. People like Ada Lovelace who is widely considered to be the world’s first computer programmer, Grace Hopper, the first compiler of a computer programming language have played a major role in making the industry what it is today, but try naming a prominent female figure now and chances are an answer won’t come to mind straight away.

While there are a number of theories behind why this happened, one possible reason Hauser-Reynolds gives is when the stereotype of the computer genius or nerd became popular.

As personal computers began to grow in popularity, so too did the number of films and TV shows depicting programmers as white, middle class, antisocial men. Even though that isn’t a positive for men either, that perception has unintended knock-on effects.

It’s when the whole idea of the hacker came around and there were a lot of films and pop culture that began around the boy computer science. That stereotype in itself began to alienate women. That’s when computer labs began to pop up and women just began to be marginalised.

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So what are the possible solutions? For one, greater exposure to these subjects is a major one instead of just assuming that one person will be interested and the other won’t, but it also ties into how boys and girls are brought up. If it’s a case that women aren’t interested in IT, then it’s worth looking at why this is the case and the ways to rectify that.

One option is to bring it into the school curriculum – an initiative that’s will begin in UK schools in September – which can help show how these sectors are but the reasons behind it are greater than just hoping kids will later choose it as a career.

“In the way that everyone should know about economics, really in this day and age, everyone should know a little bit about coding, what it is and how the string of logic works,” she says.

Not everyone is going to be a programmer, not everyone is going to like mathematics, history or geography or languages or writing for that matter, but to change the perception, to make it available to everyone is what’s important, make it available to girls and women, make it available to people of colour because there’s an economic need for it.

That economic need she refers to comes from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, which predicts that by 2020, one million programming jobs will be left unfulfilled. But even outside of that, we’re at a point where most of the things we interact with is software and that’s only going to become more prominent as time progresses.

Not only will there be more careers and jobs that will revolve around this, but it makes a lot of sense for everyone to have a working knowledge, even if they don’t ultimately end up in the sector.

There are jobs that we need to fill and so making them accessible and available to more people and one of the ways we can do that is to change the perception towards it… there’re a lot of people who would be really good at it who feel like they don’t belong.

Code: Debugging the Gender Gap will be making its Irish premiere at Inspirefest 2015 on Thursday 18th June.

Read: “I think there is much less misogyny in Ireland” >

Read: Snoop Dogg wants to become the next boss of Twitter >

About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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