Tuesday, April 05, 2011

More Thoughts on Diversity

Now that I'm working in computing -- a field that has actual jobs and actually hires people for a living wage -- I'm a bit more comfortable dealing with the whole diversity thing than back when I was in math. It seemed a bit odd to encourage more people to go into a field that was already saturated*. Part of my job is to address issues of "workforce development," and issues of diversity are never far from workforce development.

I'm starting to sort through some of the literature about why there is a lack of diversity in computing. Most of it is anecdotal and weird. Like how video games portray race, class, and gender. But that wasn't a factor back in the days when Pong was the state of the art, and it's not as if computing was bursting with diversity back then. I may have to schedule a session with a reference librarian because I am not happy with any of the information that I'm finding. I'm assuming that there has to be some solid, peer-reviewed research about why people from under-represented groups don't go into computing. My thought is that if I'm supposed to be addressing these issues, I should know what they are instead of just assuming based on things that I make up. I could tell you why I didn't take more computer science classes when I was an undergrad**, but I don't think that one should extrapolate from that when setting policy.

Or perhaps the strategy should be to steal away hot-shot reference librarians into the field of computing? Should we raid already diverse fields and try to recruit their shining stars?

*Hey, first generation college student! Want to get a masters in math so that you can be barely employable for low wages?

**I was lazy. Computer science classes took more time than other classes that I found equally interesting, and the homework for the computer science classes had to be done in the computer lab. (Back in the day it was not common to have your own computer with Unix.) You could think about interesting problems anywhere if you were taking a class in math or physics -- and still have time to do other things, too. The guys I went to school with put up with the demands of CS because they wanted to make a lot of money.