Documentary examines barriers to women entering tech industry

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Monday, November 10, 2014
Bay Area filmmaker examines barriers to woemn entering tech industry
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A Bay Area filmmaker looked into what it will take to create a better future for women in the world of computers.

Currently, in the tech industry there are more jobs available than qualified candidates.

Even in good times, half the population is being left behind. Women still make up only a small percentage of the high tech job force.

One Bay Area filmmaker looked into what it will take to create a better future for women in the world of computers.

In the fast moving world of computer science, one equation just doesn't seem to add up. The number of jobs for software engineers is rising, but the percentage of women graduating with computer science degrees is going down.

Marin County filmmaker and mother Robin Hauser Reynolds says it makes no sense.

"There's an abundance of computer science jobs," she said. "They are lucrative, they are creative. You can work from home. You can work from the office. We couldn't figure out why more women weren't getting into these jobs."

When Reynold's own daughter dropped her computer science major the idea for a documentary was born.

"I think the biggest hurdle is the stereotype," she said. "Girls need to start seeing themselves as programmers."

The documentary is called "Code: Debugging the Gender Gap."

"I absolutely think that women can be just as great as men at programming and the great thing is, I can look the way I do. I can wear lipstick and write just as good code as you," Julie Ann Horvath of Passion Projects said.

The film is still in the edit room with the release planned early next year. The trailer is already generating buzz in the tech industry.

All-female academy teaches how to write computer code

"Computer science is changing our whole world," Jane Margolis, a senior researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles said. "Unfortunately, it's a very un-diverse field. It's actually quite segregated."

Reynold's and her team interviewed people at many of the top tech companies and found this is not just a women's issue. There is a serious supply and demand challenge.

By the year 2020, American universities are on track to graduate about 400,000 computer scientists. The United States Department of Labor predicts the nation will actually need one million and 400,000 by then.

"That's one million jobs that will be unfilled in the USA by the year 2020," Reynold's said. "So it's a huge economic problem."

Competition for programmers is intense and if there were more women in the pipeline it could make a big difference.

Eventbrite, a high tech event promotion company, is always looking for qualified software engineers. "It's not like women are better at it than men, or vice versa, but you get such a great variety of perspectives and talents when you have a balanced team, whether that's gender or ethnicity or anything else," Kat King, an Eventbrite software engineer said.

They won't say how many women they have on staff, but they definitely want more and so do other companies that have learned from history that diversity on a design team for a new product can be critical.

The documentary highlights a classic example.

"Unfortunately, the first round of airbags killed a lot of women and children and it turns out the airbags were developed for the average specs of the engineer on the team, and those engineers happened to all be white men," said the trailer for the movie.

Reynold's believes the demand for software programmers could eventually be a great equalizer.

"These jobs are starting out at $90,000 a year and you don't need to have a college degree," she said. "If you know how to code and you can code a few different languages, then you could start working at $90,000 thousand a year. It doesn't matter what color your skin is, what your gender is. These are jobs that need to be filled."

The demand for computer programmers has launched a wave of what are being called coding boot camps. They are intensive programs to get you ready for an entry level job in software engineering in just a few months.

Below are links to the documentary and other Computer Science resources.

Code: Debugging the Gender Gap

Hackbright Academy, a non-profit organization dedicated to expanding participation in computer science

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.