The modern computer science education movement, commonly referred to as Computer Science for All or #CSforALL, has been gaining momentum nationwide since 2004 and is poised to be the most significant upgrade to the US education system in history.
History is recorded and codified through the journalism, social media, and public policy, and tends to emphasize the voices of those already in the public eye. Moreover, we know that media frequently amplifies the loudest voice in the room, and often misses the contributions of those without social capital and power, including women and minorities. Recent films like Hidden Figures and The Computers show this phenomenon by documenting the lost history of women’s contributions to engineering and technology fields.
Unfortunately, reporting on the Computer Science for All movement is already showing evidence of the erasure and dismissal of the contributions of educators, and in particular women and minorities.
On March 3, 2019, 60 Minutes ran a segment on increasing girls’ participation in computer science that excluded the contributions of all of the women-led organizations working to increase girls’ involvement in tech. The segment credited Code.org with solving the problem “once and for all,” sparking nationwide outrage and pushback from community stakeholders including Girls Who Code, littleBits, AnitaB.org, NCWIT, and CSforALL.
Even more damaging, the 60 Minutes piece incorrectly claimed that the number of women majoring in computer science has declined. The number of women receiving undergraduate degrees in computer science has quadrupled since 2009 thanks to efforts of organizations like the National Center for Women & Information Technology, CSTA, and AnitaB.org, as well as investments by the National Science Foundation, Microsoft, Google, Apple, and many others over the past decade.
I was excited to watch the 60 Minutes piece and wrote a quick blog post titled littleBits Is Helping To Close The Gender Gap in Technology with a teaser about it. I then watched the whole episode and was incredibly upset. I fumed for a while and then emotionally supported several women, including Ayah Bdeir, littleBits CEO, who wrote An Insider’s Look at Why Women End Up on the Cutting Room Floor.
I wrote a draft of a blog post but realized that it wasn’t additive to the discussion. I was mad at 60 Minutes, felt incredibly frustrated, and was sad for all the women who were once again marginalized by the way things were portrayed.
I’ve been living in this problem since 2004 when I joined the board of a nascent organization called the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). I’ve learned an incredible amount about gender issues in technology – and in general – from working alongside Lucy Sanders and her wonderful organization since then. I’ve tried to be the living embodiment of a male advocate (now commonly referred to as a male ally) and, while I’ve made plenty of mistakes over the years, have been on a learning journey that has made me a much better human.
When Ruthe Farmer, the Chief Evangelist for CSforALL (and formerly of NCWIT) reached out to me about helping with a new project called CSbyALL, I immediately said yes. Amy and I have been supporters of CSforAll for several years and count a number of the board members as friends, especially Fred and Joanne Wilson who helped get CSforAll up and running.
Amy and I, along with Fred and Joanne, are proud to be the first contributors to this new project to document the actual history of the modern computer science education movement. CSbyALL will be a crowd-sourced interactive timeline and data visualization tool that will surface and illuminate the collective stories, artifacts, and events from the distributed CS education community. It will recognize the contributions of not only national leaders and policymakers, but also local advocates like teachers and school administrators, out-of-school time educators, local organizations, and researchers.
If you are interested in supporting this effort or getting involved in any way, drop me an email.
Google Boulder recently did a phenomenal thing. They recently gave a gift of over $2 million to CU Boulder, which included free office space for NCWIT for the next six years (valued at $1.3 million.) As of a few weeks ago, NCWIT now has a great long-term home in an older Google office on 26th Street in Boulder off of the CU Campus.
The head of Google Boulder (I think his official title in Googlespeak is “Engineering Site Director”) is Scott Green. I’ve known Scott since shortly after I moved to Boulder in 1995. He was an early employee at Email Publishing (which became MessageMedia), my very first Boulder-based angel investment. After MessageMedia, he spent some time working at Return Path (where I’ve been an investors since 2000) early in its life before moving to @Last (which we were not investors in, but were fans of since some of our friends, including Brian Makare (the co-founder of Email Publishing) and Mark Solon (then of Highway 12, now at Techstars) were investors.) While Scott and I don’t spend a lot of time together, we’ve both been part of the evolution of the Boulder startup community going back to the late 1990s.
In 2006, Google bought @Last (makers of SketchUp). That was the beginning of Google’s presence in Boulder, which is now around 1,000 people on a new, very nice, and well-integrated campus in the middle of town. Scott and the Google team have always been great corporate citizens of the startup community, offering up their larger event space on a regular basis, participating in, and sponsoring, many of the local startup events over the years, and generally just being a constructive and healthy part of the mix. Google’s continued expanded presence in Boulder is a positive reflection on the overall startup community and their new campus is a really nice addition to our little city in the mountains.
NCWIT (National Center for Women & Information Technology) has long been a hidden gem of Boulder. I got involved shortly after it was founded in 2004 and became the board chair in 2005 (which I served as until I resigned all my non-profit board positions at the end of last year.) I’m still deeply involved and it is a major initiative of the Anchor Point Foundation (the foundation that Amy and I run.)
Physical office space at CU Boulder has always been a struggle for NCWIT. When the organization was small, it fit nicely in a corner of the CU Roser ATLAS Center on the second floor. Amy and I were appreciative of this and sponsored the bathrooms on this floor of ATLAS. As NCWIT grew, they crammed into a small space, then overflowed it, expanded a little, but then lost it in a mysterious space shuffle that I’ve never really understood. Eventually, NCWIT moved over to some old space in the engineering building, but the space was poorly configured, had no cell signal, and wasn’t secure.
At the beginning of 2017, Lucy Sanders (NCWIT CEO) and I started looking for other space in Boulder. We tried to get different space on CU’s campus but were unsuccessful. We had a few near misses with commercial space, but either the economics didn’t work out or the space wasn’t right. Last summer, Google Boulder engaged as their new campus was opening up. A few weeks ago, NCWIT moved into their new, long-term home.
I’m incredibly appreciative for what Google Boulder has done here for NCWIT. It makes me extremely happy to see a #GiveFirst approach from Google in our startup community, along with the extensive support for NCWIT. It’s always nice to be part of an organization that is on the receiving end of this kind of generosity, especially one as deserving as NCWIT.
Scott, Google, and the rest of your team at Google Boulder – THANK YOU!
Next up in my #GivingThanks series – in appreciation for people during Thanksgiving who have had a profound impact on me – is Lucy Sanders, the CEO of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). Unlike the last post about the Jason Mendelson Entrepreneurial Award Fund, I’m not going to bury the lede – go here if you’d like to make a financial gift to NCWIT as part of #GivingThanks.
I met Lucy in 2004. We were introduced by Terry Gold (I was on the board at Gold Systems). Terry has always been a great connector so without knowing anything about Lucy I said “sure” and we had a meeting in my old office in Superior above a liquor store and Old Chicago Pizza.
In the first few minutes, Lucy explained her plans for a new organization she had created called National Center for Women & Information Technology. Her goal was straightforward – get more girls and women involved in computer science. As someone who has been involved in the tech industry since 1987, there was an obvious gender issue – all you needed to do was walk around a software company and look at the engineers. But Lucy captured my attention when she went further than the issue of gender parity by saying in the first five minutes something like “It’s an issue of long term competitiveness and innovation. In the US, the demand for computer scientists and programmers is growing at a pace that will dramatically outstrip the supply of labor unless we get more women involved, starting now.”
NCWIT’s mission has evolved nicely over the years but has stayed true to that statement from Lucy a dozen years ago. Today, NCWIT formally describes itself as follows:
“The National Center for Women & Information Technology is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization chartered in 2004 by the National Science Foundation. NCWIT is a “collective impact” effort, a community of more than 700 prominent corporations, academic institutions, government agencies, and non-profits working to increase girls’ and women’s participation in technology and computing. NCWIT helps organizations recruit, retain, and advance women from K-12 and higher education through industry and entrepreneurial careers by providing support, evidence, and action. NCWIT is the only national organization focused on women’s participation in computing across the entire ecosystem: K-12 through college education, and academic to corporate and entrepreneurial careers.”
Lucy asked me to be on the NCWIT board on the spot and a year later I agreed to be chair of the board, a role that I’ve cherished over the years.
I’m fortunate in that I was ready to engage in the problem. My views on gender are heavily influenced by two powerful women in my life – my mom (Cecelia Feld) and my wife (Amy Batchelor). I watched my parents act as completely equal partners in their relationship and, as a son to a woman I respect immensely, I never thought of gender inequality as a child. For the past 26 years, I’ve been in a relationship with an equal partner (Amy) and notice gender issues everywhere in our society. Amy and I talk about it regularly, take action on a number of fronts around it, and work together to address issues when we see or experience them.
So when I first met Lucy I had a prepared and receptive mind. But, I didn’t really know or understand things beyond an anecdotal state. Over the past dozen years, I’ve learned more about gender issues, unconscious bias, power dynamics in organizations, harassment, and long term solutions from Lucy and my work with NCWIT than I have from anything else. I’ve had a great partner in Amy to talk about many of the issues that I’ve learned about, as I go beyond just understanding to taking action. And, with Lucy, I’ve gotten to work on this with an outstanding partner leading an organization I’m incredibly proud of.
In the past few years, we’ve finally started to see the conversation around gender in computing as fact-based, instead of anecdote-based, discussion. Some awesome female leaders are taking things to the next level. We still have a long way to go, but I’m hopeful that in a decade we’ll look back and feel like gender issues in tech are no longer an issue.
Lucy – thank you for everything you do – every day – on this issue. If this is an important issue to you, and you want to join in on #GivingThanks, please make a donation to NCWIT to support their work.
Last week, I joined the board of a new non-profit called Path Forward which has a mission to get people back to work after they’ve taken time off for caregiving. Specifically, Path Forward works with companies to create mid-career internship that are an on ramp back to the paid workforce.
Andy Sautins (at the time Return Path’s CTO) and Matt Blumberg (Return Path’s CEO) came up with the idea two years ago. After running two cycles at Return Path, they expanded it to other companies including ReadyTalk, SendGrid, MWH Global, SpotX, and Moz.
It’s now an independent non-profit organization that was launched last week with posts from Fred Wilson (who is on the board of Return Path with me), Joanne Wilson (who is the board co-chair of Path Forward), Matt Blumberg (CEO of Return Path and board co-chair of Path Forward), and Tami Forman (Executive Director of Path Forward). And, as a bonus, Fortune had a long article explaining things in This Nonprofit Wants To Put Stay-At-Home Moms Back to Work.
I’m very selective about the non-profits I’m on the board of. While I’m involved in a number of them and Amy and I support many others, I’ve limited myself to three non-profit boards at a time. I’ve been chair of NCWIT for many years and co-chair of Startup Colorado since inception. Until last year, I was on the UP Global board, but left the board when UP Global was acquired by Techstars. So, I had an open non-profit board position and immediately said yes when asked by Matt given the mission of Path Forward.
If you have a company in New York, California, or Colorado (they are starting in these three states) that would like to start doing returnships, go to Path Forward and fill out this form. If you are ready to restart your career after taking time off, go to Path Forward and complete this form.
Finally, Amy and I are making a substantial financial contribution and would encourage any reader who (a) supports the mission and (b) wants to give back in some way to go to Crowdrise, hit the donate button, and help support our launch.
On Saturday I went to two films at the Boulder International Film Festival – Code: Debugging the Gender Gap and A Good American. Both were excellent and worth watching, but Code was special for me as its an issue I’ve been helping work on for over a decade.
When I joined the National Center for Women & Information Technology board as the chair in 2005, it was a nascent organization and the issue of the small number of women in computer science, while often talked about, wasn’t well understood. Today, not only is the issue well understood, but many of the solutions are clear and being talked openly about, such as in the article At Harvey Mudd College, the Ratio of Women in Computer Science Increased from 10% to 40% in 5 Years
While there is still a ton of work to do, I asserted at a recent NCWIT board meeting that I felt we were at a tipping point and we’d start to see rapid improvement on the number of women in computer science in the next decade. Movies like Code make me optimistic that not only are we figuring out what is going on, but we are getting the word out and having some real impact on the issue.
This morning, President Obama and the White House made an awesome announcement of a new initiative called Computer Science for All. The goal is to empower a generation of American students with the computer science skills they need to thrive in a digital economy.
NCWIT (where I’m the chair of the board) is deeply involved in this. Rather than try to recreate Lucy Sanders (the CEO of NCWIT’s) message to the extended NCWIT community, I’m just republishing it below.
This morning the entire NCWIT community has reason to celebrate. President Obama just made an historic call to action that provides all students access to computer science education through policy and financial support. We encourage everybody to amplify and support this announcement within your networks using the hashtag #CSforAll. You can also follow updates from @whitehouse on Twitter, as well as the NCWIT social media channels.
This moment comes after a long journey of advocacy and work by the entire NCWIT change leader network. Those of you that have been around since the early years of NCWIT may remember the first time President Obama spoke publicly about computer science at the 2006 NCWIT/NSF Innovation & Diversity Town Hall at the National Academy of Engineering. We are grateful that he has continued to support computer science education throughout his presidency and look forward to seeing what is ahead in the final months of the administration.
Universal access is a critical element when working toward inclusion for all underrepresented students in computing. In addition to the growing library of NCWIT research-based resources for K-12 educators, families and girls, today NCWIT joins many other partners in making additional commitments to the #CSforAll initiative:
NCWIT will equip 1,400 school counselors with tools for advising high school students on computer science education and career pathways. NCWIT Counselors for Computing (C4C) helps counselors paint a new picture of who is right for computing and supports their strategic action toward increasing access to computer science education and career pathways for all students. Through a $1 million commitment, NCWIT will scale up its Counselors for Computing initiative to equip 1,400 new school counselors with training and resources, increasing access for more than half a million students to the growing and lucrative careers in technology.
NCWIT, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Google will collaborate to expand CS options for more than 400 girls living in HUD-supported housing by extending the NCWIT AspireIT outreach program to local HUD partners. NCWIT AspireIT enlists high school and college women to lead computing outreach experiences for K-12 girls using a novel approach in which near-peer role models teach younger girls fundamentals in programming and computational thinking in fun, creative environments.
NCWIT will host a series of roundtables aimed at increasing access for girls from underrepresented groups. NCWIT will partner with Intel to host a convening on Native American students’ and tribes’ access to technology careers, and will host with Google a conversation on the image of African-American girls in technology. Also with Google, NCWIT will bring together leaders of peer-led computing-outreach programs to identify promising practices, collaborate on evaluation and outcomes measurement, and build strategies for scaling-up programs for students nationwide.
We look forward to continuing our work with the entire computing community on the important mission of inclusion and diversity. We can’t wait to see what problems get solved, and what solutions emerge, when diverse people are inventing the technology upon which we all depend. We welcome your thoughts and collaboration, and don’t forget the NCWIT Summit is coming right up, May 16-18, 2016.
The first time I met President Obama was at an NCWIT event in 2006 when he was a senator. It was the first time he spoke publicly about computer science.
With the endless vitriol going on in the US political world right now given our election cycle, it’s wonderful to see President Obama and his staff (including the amazing Megan Smith, our U.S. Chief Technology Officer) focus on things that really matter for the long term health of our country and society – and get them done.
In my role as chair of the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), I’ve learned that one of the powerful things men can do in the gender equality discussion is be a male advocate.
This is easy to say, but difficult to do. Recently, there has been some controversy around the role of male advocates and an ensuing debate, not about the core issue of gender diversity, but about how men who are trying to be helpful potentially make things worse through their actions.
As a result Catherine Ashcraft and Wendy Dubow, two of the senior research scientists at NCWIT, wrote an article for Fast Company titled The Tricky (and Necessary) Business of Being a Male Advocate for Gender Equality. After explaining why male advocates are important, they list six specific things that male advocates should consider in the context of being effective, constructive, and helpful.
If you are interested or involved in the discussion and dynamic about gender diversity in tech, I strongly encourage you to read this article. It’s a very helpful one.
There was plenty of Apple news yesterday, but the one that lit me up was the announcement that Apple is partnering with the National Center for Women and Information Technology to help create a broader pipeline of female technology workers.
I’ve been chair of NCWIT since 2006 and have worked closely with Lucy Sanders, the founder and CEO. I’ve learned an amazing amount from her, and NCWIT, about the dynamics around women in information, the challenges we collectively face as an industry, and how to impact it.
While we’ve raised money from lots of different organizations, Apple’s give of about $10 million over four years is the largest corporate gift we’ve received to date. The relationship that Apple and NCWIT have developed over the years is a wonderful example of a large technology organization getting the issue, engaging with it, learning how to impact it, and putting its money where its mouth is.
NCWIT’s goal with this specific funding from Apple is to double the number of four-year-degree recipients supported by NCWIT’s internships, scholarships and other resources, and to reach 10,000 middle school girls over the next few years.
Apple – thank you for your leadership in this area.
Oh – and one more thing. Here’s a photo of this year’s NCWIT Aspirations in Computing award winners. These young women are the future.
Lucy Sanders, the founder/CEO of the National Center for Women & Information Technology is a remarkable person. I’ve worked with Lucy since 2005 and she’s done more advancing the cause of engaging women in IT, computer science, and entrepreneurship than anyone I know.
As a bonus, she – and NCWIT – are based in Boulder. I like to refer to them as a gem of CU Boulder that is hidden in plain site.
Next Wednesday, as part of the Entrepreneurs Unplugged interview series I’ve been helping host for the past few years, Jill Dupre and I will interview Lucy at the ATLAS Center in Room 100.
I promise you that it will be a special one. Lucy started her career as a young woman at Bell Labs in the 1970s. She was one of the only ones. When she retired from Avaya Labs in 2001, she was CTO, R&D Vice President and Bell Labs Fellow and had about 600 people reporting to her. Her journey up to this point was amazing, but she was just getting started. What she’s done in the last decade as the CEO of NCWIT is amazing.
My work with Lucy has been one of the most satisfying non-profit experiences I’ve been involved in. In addition, I’ve learned an incredible amount from her about the dynamics of women in technology, business, and entrepreneurship. She’s had a dramatic impact on my thinking and behavior and I’d love to share some of her magic with you.
Register here and come join us on Wednesday, January 28, 2015 for 6:00-7:30 PM.