As we approach March and the start of Women’s History Month, I want to take a moment to highlight a particular workforce trend that hits home here at Q-Centrix.
Question: did you know that the first computer programmer was a woman? (We bet not.) The reality is that an English mathematician by the name of Ada Lovelace was the first person to write an algorithm to be performed by a computing machine and, thus, she became the first programmer. That was way back in the 1840s. Unfortunately, Lovelace turned out to be an exception since the majority of computer science roles are now filled by men. This trend has been historically consistent across the science, technology, engineering and mathematics professions – often referred to as the “STEM” fields.
According to the latest available statistics, women in the U.S.:
- Make up only 19% of software developers and 21% of computer programmers
- Earn about 18% of all computer science degrees
- Comprise just 27% of students taking advanced placement (AP) computer science exams
Many labor experts agree that historic societal influences are mostly to blame for the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields. From early childhood play through career-decision guidance…girls play with dolls but boys play with cars…girls are counseled to be teachers but boys are counseled to be engineers. Workplace gender disparities compound the resulting imbalances – perpetuating hiring, promotion and salary biases.
There are signs that gender trends in computer science are changing. During a recent 10-year period, the number of female AP computer science exam takers increased by nearly 11 times, whereas the number of male exam takers increased by only a factor of about seven. If this trend continues, the number of girls taking these exams will outnumber boys by 2023.
And, it shouldn’t go without mentioning there are now dozens of reputable bootcamps for learning software programming and coding skills. This is a once-unavailable avenue for both women and men who did not set out on traditional educational paths toward software engineering careers but are interested in breaking into the field.
But…why do we care? And…what does it mean for our partners? The short answer is that it means a lot to us.
You see, our objective is to build software that makes people more efficient and effective. It has to be easy to learn, easy to use, and very powerful. And our perspective is that you need a diverse team of people to accomplish that. If everyone on your team looks the same, you risk introducing bias into your process; that team will not as easily be able to envision themselves in their users’ shoes as a team that is made up of people with different experiences and thus different perspectives.
If you’re with one of our partner hospitals, you’re probably aware how we’re constantly working on improving our solutions with some of the most advanced technologies available. But what may not be so apparent, is what…or should I say “who”…is working behind the scenes to drive this innovation.
Not to mention, when the best software engineer is a woman, you get…someone who, perhaps, had to work exceptionally hard to achieve her goals. And, she did this with fewer women role models to emulate, fewer women mentors to receive support and guidance from, and fewer women in a position to hire her.
Examples of such women include the following Q-Centrix team members. To be clear, these are just two out of many women on our team who do incredible work every day. One followed a traditional path to becoming a software engineer and now leads a nearly all-women project team. The other – who works on the same team – took advantage of one of those aforementioned boot camps en route to her current role.
Hopkins, age 28, heads up a five-person team of software engineers – four of them being women. She says she knew back in grade school she wanted to work with computers. At age 13, her parents moved her family from Mumbai, India, to Anaheim, California, to provide her and her older brother better education opportunities. She went on to earn a computer programming degree at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona in 2013. Following graduation, she was hired by a major U.S. defense contractor, where her focus included radar systems, before landing at Q-Centrix in February 2015. She served on Q-Centrix’s largest software development team before transferring to one of its most essential teams, which she now leads. This team develops tools for integrating hospitals’ quality data into Q-Centrix’s data management platform, a strategy that sets the company apart from many of its competitors.
In Hopkins’ own words:
“My husband and I have a niece and nephew who are toddlers. Our niece has lots of dolls and our nephew plays with a train kit. This isn’t purposefully done to push them toward different interests, but it shows how gender stereotypes are so ingrained in our culture. If parents can break these molds, we can start all children off on a more-equal footing.”
Abrahamson, age 29, has a master’s in English literature – a far cry from software engineering. She says, however, she always liked computers, which is evidenced by the fact she taught herself web coding at age 8. In 2014, immediately following graduate school during a stint as an administrative assistant, she took on the responsibility of maintaining her employer’s website. This reignited her interest in coding-related work. By January 2015, she enrolled full time in a software development boot camp known as Learn Academy. The program consisted of three months of daily programming and coding exercises followed by an internship. Before arriving at Q-Centrix, Abrahamson worked for a business solutions company and then as a Learn Academy instructor, helping others get started in software engineering. She now works on a nearly all-woman team (reporting to Hopkins) developing data integration tools.
In Abrahamson’s own words:
“I’ve noticed that growing up, boys are allowed to be bad at things but still are encouraged to pursue what they’re interested in while girls are guided toward what they excel at. I hope my story shows other women that despite your background, it’s possible to change course and follow the path you want.”
These snapshots don’t come close to providing a complete a look at all that these women have endured and accomplished. Nor do I highlight them as evidence that Q-Centrix has more women software engineers than men (we don’t — though we probably have a higher percentage than most organizations like ours).
The real point of this post is multilayered. First, it’s to celebrate the success of all women software engineers and to honor and thank them for paving the way for more women to follow in their footsteps. It is also to highlight that women can be and are successful in this field, and that there are different ways they can break into it.
Further, it’s to show there are a variety of ways companies can empower women to pursue and succeed in fields where they have been traditionally underrepresented. At Q-Centrix, we allow remote working and flexible schedules to foster work-life balance for all employees. In meetings and other communications, we encourage “straight talk” from all team members with the goal of ensuring everyone feels comfortable saying what they mean and that all opinions are listened to. Furthermore, we aim to retain talent with personal development opportunities, such as a capstone engineering project and opportunities to learn new data technologies (e.g., action cable and React). And because we are growing, there are evolving opportunities for leadership development.
While there is always room for more progress, I am certain that without the diversity we have on our team, our efforts to create an empowering environment for women and others, and all of our amazing and talented team members, that Q-Centrix would not be the leading quality solutions provider it is today. On that note, I say thank you to all the women on our team for all that you do – and here’s to celebrating a happy and meaningful Women’s History Month!