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Ask HN: Approaches to encourage girls to choose software engineering?
9 points by beilabs on Feb 8, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 7 comments
I’ve been asked to give a speech to 600 girls between the ages of 12-19 in Kathmandu, Nepal about why they should choose software engineering as a career.

Have you heard of any great speeches, videos or methods that I could use to suggest the career path to those who have no concept of the industry?

I would agree that telling them to choose software engineering is the last thing you want to do. Instead I would suggest you tell them about how computers touch the lives of everyone on the planet, from research to pacemakers, from entertainment to manufacturing. And show them that computers have become so pervasive, in so many things, understanding a bit about how they work and especially about how they are programmed, will be helpful in what ever career they pursue.

Software engineering is the process by which a computer is enabled as a force multiplier in your quest to achieve your objectives and goals, stay focused on the goals. The ones that find software engineering interesting will continue on in that.

As a point of reference, none of my daughters wanted to be software engineers but they all appreciate that working in their fields of interest (physics, biology, and literature) requires they understand how computers are programmed.

I am a woman. I was a homemaker and mom for two decades. At one time, I wanted to speak 6 languages and be a translator. That dream did not pan out. I feel better about it since learning a little HTML and CSS.

I am very social and I had fantasies that speaking multiple languages would allow to talk in depth with many people. I learned HTML and CSS to code my own websites back before we had things like BlogSpot. Learning a smattering of code allowed me to reach far more people than learning a smattering of German, French and Greek.

What do these girls dream of? Being moms without being trapped in poverty? Computers are a pathway to having what you want. Find out what they dream of and help them see that this path will open more doors for them than most other paths. Try to connect the dots for them, if at all possible.

Typically, having good reasons would precede encouragement.

Why should they choose software engineering as a career? Isn't it a miserable occupation for many without independent interest in the field? Don't many end up regretting it, having been goaded into it by overbearing parents, the promise of financial security, or a political movement to redistribute power from one faction to others? Doesn't the practical argument, that it's a good job, get weaker with each CS degree newly awarded?

Writing software will become a necessary skill for people with primary knowledge of other domains. The market is soon to be super-saturated with generic "software engineers," most of them unprepared to do anything more than plumb Java business software or glue together knick-knack web apps. I would encourage these children to find an interest in the world at large, and let the software follow if needed.

Not a big fan of "we need more of X demographic in Y field" stuff but if I were giving a talk of this nature I would try to cover these points:

1) What the field involves - in this case I would say problem solving. Give some examples of the problems one solves when programming.

2) Cool things about the field - I would try to show a few examples of the wide range of things you can do with programming, and how it can amplify your ability in whatever field you are interested in.

3) The economics - oh btw it pays well on average compared to many other fields. This should be a last point but it is important.

Just expose them to what the field is and you will have done a great service. No need to hard sell it.

Well, this may not be exactly what you're looking for but I'll share anyway.

I'm a dad of three younger girls (10, 7, and 2). The 10-year old has tons of friends over all the time from her school and dance class. They compete to see who can do the best on their math/STEM homework.

I'm also an employer at a technology company where we didn't have any women full-time until employee 20 or so (save a temp or two). Now we have 8 women, three in technical positions. They fit in great.

Anyway, the best thing I've found is to just give them the same opportunities and to challenge them. For example, we throw math and science trivia games up on the Apple TV and play as a family or with friends. They have fun and it's helped a ton with their math skills.

Also, I volunteer as a Lego Mindstorms coach. My girls don't participate yet but about half the team of 8 are girls. They all love it. A couple were shy at first but it helps that the other coach is a woman. We've had one or two girls that were really shy and didn't want to participate in the formal Lego matches. I casually talked to their parents one-on-one about how we could help those individual girls and we decided to just have them come "watch." Within like 10 minutes those girls joined right in and did great at the matches. I'd say they're some of the smartest on our team.

Same thing with the ladies at work. Two of them have become leaders and two of the others are working their way there.

It's been a matter of finding their talents and letting them go down that path exploring tech and supporting them by giving them CBT Nuggets or Plural Sight subscriptions. They go home at night an learn, explore, and practice.

The only thing I've really noticed is that if a woman tries to "put her foot down" they can be seen as brash (or worse) especially by male engineers. Where if a man does it he's seen as a leader.

I'm not sure how to handle that yet, but a smile goes a super long way.

EDIT: Typos...

If I were in your position I would research the cultural expectations placed on women in that country and, if applicable, explain how a career in software engineering would give them opportunities to have a better life.

Instead of trying to encourage some one to do something why don't we let economics do it. Software pays more money more people are going to do it.

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