Ask one of Mason High School’s female computer scientists what it’s like to be a young woman in programming, and she might respond with a quizzical look. That’s because, while some might credit them with breaking the “brogrammer” mold, they’re just doing what they enjoy.
Juniors Sydney Braine and Emily Wang and sophomore Sydnie Kong are three of nine female computer-science students from Mason High School who recently received the Aspirations in Computing award from the National Center for Women & Information Technology’s Ohio affiliate.
“To me it means that I’m part of a community of women who are looking to achieve more in the future, specifically in technology,” Braine said. Specifically, she is looking to the future for career opportunities in the field.
As a high-school junior, she already knows she wants to major in computer science in college and hopes to find a career in network security.
“I originally wanted to be a politician, but then I fell in love with the problem solving of computer science,” she said.
Her passion started her freshman year, when she took a computer science elective.
“Computer science was the first class that did not come easy to me,” Braine said. “I had to work for it, and I found out I liked it. I like being challenged.”
Braine isn’t the only one who attributes her passion for programming to a penchant for solving problems. “
A large part of computer programming is debugging,” Kong said. “You have to find out where the problem is and how to solve it in the most efficient way.”
That component comes into play when landing a job, too. While it may seem that many programming positions are outsourced to other countries, there are still plenty available in the United States for people who are qualified, said Gregg Kummer, who teaches computer science at Mason High School.
“They don’t outsource problem-solving,” he said.
While careers might be a few years off, Mason City Schools students have ample opportunities to learn problem solving and other computer science skills.
“Currently Mason definitely is ahead of the game as far as involving students in STEM at a young age,” Wang said.
Five information-technology classes are available at the high school, including computer programming, digital imagery and design, and Advanced Placement computer science.
“I don’t know of any high school in the state that has five semesters of computer programming,” Kummer said.
The district also offers an annual math and science night for students in second through fifth grade. In addition, as early as intermediate school – fourth through sixth grade – students can take part in an after-school science club.
Extracurricular opportunities at the high school include chapters of the Association for Computing Machinery and ACM’s Women in Computing branch), and a partnership with INTERalliance. Through INTERalliance, students can participate in technology competitions, IT careers camp and internships with area businesses, including General Electric, P&G and dunnhumbyUSA.
“A lot of schools don’t have computer programming in high school, and definitely not in middle school,” Kong said.
Even with the numerous computer-science opportunities in the district, the proportion of young women studying the subject isn’t significantly higher than elsewhere. Women earn about 18 percent of undergraduate computer- and information-sciences degrees in the United States. At Mason, about 20 percent of students taking computer-science classes are females, Kummer said.
“I think it just means that, as a female, we’re trying to break the stereotype,” Wang said.
Despite the number gap between males and females, students at Mason are anything but divided.
“It’s a community,” Braine said. “It’s not segregated by gender or anything like that.”
Rather than a “brogrammer” mentality, what she sees in the classroom are boys who are excited that girls are interested in computer science.
It also helps not to question one’s own abilities. For Wang, whose mother is a computer scientist, there was never a question as to whether or not she was capable of coding.
“I just thought it was natural that everyone could program,” she said.
While Braine, Wang and Kong don’t see it as a big deal that they’re female computer scientists, they do recognize the importance of setting an example for younger students.
“Girls should know that they can do it,” Braine said. “It’s not for the faint of heart, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth it.”