From the dawn of computer technology, most of the people involved have been men. Early engineers, programmers, designers and company executives have mainly been male. It is ironic,however, that the first computer programmer was a woman, Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace. In 1842, she realized that a computer being designed by Charles Babbage could be used to perform a wide variety of services. In translating a document from French to English, she included the world's first computer program. History records that Babbage's computer was far too complicated to be built at the time and Countess Lovelace died not many years later, having never actually had a computer execute her program.
In the years since, some women have been quite active in the computer field, but they have been far outnumbered by men. It is obvious that women are completely capable of advancing the field as evidenced by Countess Lovelace and Grace Hopper. Grace developed the first compiler, a concept that has become vital for most computer applications developed in the past 50 or more years. The compiler takes a computer program written in a simple English-like language and translates it into the core numerical program required by by a computer. Computer programming efficiency was greatly advanced by Grace Hopper's compiler.
In the early 21st century, there has been a marked decrease in the number of women training in the computer technology program. In the late 1980's, the percentage of women was just over 35%. 15 years later, that percentage had declined to 28% and in 2005, a report pegs the number at under 20%. Significant also is the fact that the computer industry has experience significant growth between 1985 and 2005. This has meant that the gender gap in technology has resulted in an even greater bias towards men. Some people believe that the absence of women in technology is a direct result of the educational methods used to train girls and young women both in grade and post-secondary schools.
Many girls may be discouraged to follow a technical training program due to the overwhelming stereotype of the geeky nerd as the representation of a successful programmer. While there have been such characters in the technical field in the past, the image is more a product of the 1970's and 1980's culture. Today's emerging computer success models are likely to be relaxed, confident people who look like many of the members of their generation. The old days of young programmers working away for days on a single issue are also gone. Now the young stars are far more interconnected with others and they actually crave attention for their computer creations. A great many have established their mark in the computer field with early launches of applications like Facebook or eBay. It has been their significant response to a need in the computer society that has defined these individuals, not their wardrobes.
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Parents of young girls should heed the advice of Professor De Palma from Gonzaga University. He suggests that any girl with an aptitude for symbols should learn programming. Classic symbol substitution code work should serve as a marker to identify such an aptitude. Using numbers for letters, (A-1, B-2, C-3, etc), can someone decode this into text:
20 8 9 19 9 19 1 20 5 19 20 (answer at the bottom)
Programming instruction for girls should concentrate on concepts rather than the minutia of microcomputers and clumsy graphical programming. Boys seem to respond to the tinkering aspects of primitive hardware and individual dot placements where girls do not. Instead, have the girls learn how to do particular things that are simple in their initial concepts but which can grow in complexity as needed. Some people believe that formal computer programming instruction tends to emulate mathematics courses in the universities. This can be recognized as a contradiction to women that they may easily avoid. It is important that girls, (and later young women), find ways to enjoy computer technology as they expand their ability with it. There are a lot of career choices already and the field will only expand in the future.
Girls may like to learn the Alice programming language. This is an innovative environment that makes it easy for girls to create a story, play an interactive game or create a video that can be shared. Alice was designed to teach introductory computer programming. The three dimensional graphics and the mouse controlled interface make it more engaging and less frustrating for the beginner. The young programmers move graphical objects to implement their programs. They receive an introduction in how object manipulation corresponds to program statements in order to accomplish the desired action of their animations. Alice is a completely free programming environment that was developed by Carnegie Mellon University. They released it as a public service in order to greatly improve the ability of young people to get involved in computer programming. Alice has been supported by a large community of supporters as well as large corporations such as Electronic Arts, Sun Microsystems, Disney, Google and others. Non-profit organizations such as the National Science Foundation, the Hearst Foundations and the Heinz Endowments are also key to the future development and support of Alice.
Alice is available at this download page where the download for Windows may be selected. Installation is not typical for a Windows machine. When the download is selected, a compressed zip file is copied to your computer. This must be extracted into a new folder, for example C:Program FilesAlice. The Alice application can be run from there. When it starts, you will be presented with an initial screen that displays several tutorials that you can choose from. It would be a great idea to check out all of the tutorials for Alice before your child begins to use Alice. It's fun and easy, but it can be a little overwhelming at first. Take it slowly and be sure to get more instructions and tips as you need them. Remember that the environment is designed to help children learn how to program so be sure to let them experiment. With the Alice programming language, you can give your girl, (or your boy), a good start in the computer technology field.
(Answer to the symbol test: this is a test)