CS SPOTLIGHT: Girls in computer programming... why it matters!!!

I'd like to highlight a blog post from a talented and innovative educator, Doug Berman. The following is a sequence of excerpts from his recent blog post...



Congratulations to hundreds of high school girls around the country who have just been recognized by NCWIT (National Council for Women in Technology) at the national and/or state level for their accomplishments and participation in Computer Science. In my home state of South Carolina, we’re so excited that 6 of the 12 awards were from Porter-Gaud! ...

In many schools, Computer Science classes tend to be all-boys clubs. In industry, the perception is that it is male-driven. ... over the last many decades, there have been some tremendous contributions from females (i.e. to name a few: Marissa Mayer, Radia Perlman, Fran Bilas, Helen Greiner, Lixia Zhang, Christina Amon, Anita Borg, Ada Lovelace, and Mary Lou Jepsen). They don’t necessarily get much credit or recognition for that leadership, but they were invaluable to us being where we are now.  In many of today’s top companies (i.e. HP, Yahoo, Facebook, Code.org), we are seeing female leaders at all levels of management.  And as images of females in those types of roles become what girls in school see and hear, we will start to see the gender-percentage inequalities even out...

In the CS program at my school, we are now seeing about 30% female. If you look in one of our classes, you might confuse it with a typical liberal arts history or English class…it will have boys and girls of all races, interests and backgrounds—-not the stereotypical super-techno make-up one might expect in traditional Computer Science...

I remember recently being crushed when one of our graduating female students took the “Computer Science” tour at one of better universities in the southeast, and was disheartened when she looked into the Computer Science lab on a tour—99% male, and the two females who were in their did not even look up. While there are some universities that have changed the way they do business–and are actively recruiting females–Carnegie Melon, University of Washington, Georgia Tech, University of Texas, Wofford–the majority have traditional recruiting , which means they attract the exact same student they attracted 15 years ago...

What was once a discipline for the engineering-minded elite, is now an attractive major for those people who might never have been have even given it a second look. Now we see biology students, business majors, educators, and political scientists who need a different set of skills to help them solve the problems in their industries—and that skill set is called Computer Science...

CODE.ORG’s Hour of Code initiative has reached millions of students across world. The girls in our program are as excited to be there as we are to have them. And the world needs more females in fields in which females have been underrepresented for far too long...

And that translates to the marketplace, when those students find their way into business, they expect to see the same multi-gender environment there. And they value that mix. Society then reaps the benefits because the new technologies we get solve new problems in new ways, allowing us to make the world a better place...

Research indicates that around the 8th grade is where we see dramatic drop-offs in girls being part of the sciences, especially Computer Science.  It is crucial that girls get a good dose of Computer Science BEFORE THEN...

Programs such as Microsoft Expert Educator program, NCWIT (National Council for Women in Technoogy), Grace Hopper, and CSTA (Computer Science Teachers Association) and innovative teachers with a CS edge to them (such as Becky Keene, Jamie Ewing, Melanie Grace, Alfred Thompson, Lou Zulli, Mark Guzdial  Don Wettrick,Andi Li , Robyn Hrivnatz, Bob Irving, Darko Sadler, Todd Beard, Adam Michlin, Aaron Maurer, Barbara Ericson are leading the way, breaking down stereotypes, and storming through barriers to help technology, but more importantly they help creation with technology become an integral part of classrooms!

Microsoft Expert Educator program

Microsoft Expert Educator program


I'm going to stop there. I urge you to read the entire article on Doug's blog here:


I'd love to quote the whole thing, but I'm going to send you to his blog. I've probably quoted too much of it (if I did, Doug will let me know, and I'll pare it down).

But some of these topics are fantastic, and I'd love to comment on some of them.

Doug wrote:

In many schools, Computer Science classes tend to be all-boys clubs. In industry, the perception is that it is male-driven. ... over the last many decades, there have been some tremendous contributions from females (i.e. to name a few: Marissa Mayer, Radia Perlman, Fran Bilas, Helen Greiner, Lixia Zhang, Christina Amon, Anita Borg, Ada Lovelace, and Mary Lou Jepsen). They don’t necessarily get much credit or recognition for that leadership, but they were invaluable to us being where we are now.  In many of today’s top companies (i.e. HP, Yahoo, Facebook, Code.org), we are seeing female leaders at all levels of management.

I agree wholeheartedly, but I'm equally sad to say that I think the industry is still very male driven. I think we have many women leaders and many more on the way, but the more technical we get into computer programming and the fewer females we find in the industry. So I think there's still a lot of work that needs to be done!

Doug goes on to describe how one of the big obstacles for girls is that the classes are filled with boys. Maybe if colleges recruited girls more and the ES, MS, HS classes taught CS more, then we'd have a better expectation that there will be women in CS, both in college and in the industry. Here is an excerpt from Doug:

CODE.ORG’s Hour of Code initiative has reached millions of students across world. The girls in our program are as excited to be there as we are to have them.

I think the work Code.org and teachers like Doug are doing... is tremendous! It is certainly creating the expectation that everyone will learn to code, at least at the very core level (learning basic programming concepts). And that includes all the girls as well. That's a powerful first step! And it's only beginning!

But it also goes much deeper than that. As a society, we have rightly pushed for women to attend college, and they have. It has become incredibly valuable. But fewer men are attending college, and many of those women are pursuing sociology degrees, as they seek to improve the world. But the jobs in those industries don't exist at the rate at which the students are graduating. And the result has been that we have fewer qualified Americans for entry-level CS jobs. It's actually gone down from before, when we had less tools and effort to get people in the industry. Meanwhile, the demand and jobs (and salaries) in technology industries have gone way up!

As a society, we have grown as consumers of technology, but our newer generations have shrunk as producers of technology.

That puts us at the present effort. Code.org works hard (and effectively) to get all kids a chance to learn the basics of programming. Teachers like Doug work hard to change the face of CS in schools.

And we urge universities to market their CS programs to all students, and especially to women. Several of the universities do that very effectively (to Doug's point).


Is that enough? Is it enough for girls to see that other girls also study and learn computer science? Is it enough to market computer science to girls and women?

The truth is that computer science is a fairly analytical and isolated discipline. At its core, I think that's the main reason why many women haven't been attracted to it.

So we definitely should market CS to girls, change perceptions that its only for boys, and make it expected that all kids, regardless of gender, learn computer science.

But there are also a few other things we could do...


  1. We can make the tools more social and collaborative. Our development tools focus on analytical and isolated tasks. We can change that by adding social and collaboration features, all the way from the tools for little kids, to the ones for adults.
  2. We need to teach, market, praise, and evangelize the existing tools that include social and collaboration features. #1 isn't exactly unheard of. Sure, most tools don't do it, and those that do, often just merely scratch the surface of how to open our tools up to collaboration. But many tools do pursue collaborative features. I'll start a list. Please leave comments with the tool and the collaborative features for that tool. Then we'll add it to this list of tools that include collaboration features for development:
    1. VSTS & TFS : For college students and career professionals, Visual Studio Team Foundation Server (TFS - the on-prem application) and Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS - the Azure online cloud service; also sometimes called VSO - Visual Studio Online)... are Microsoft's ALM options (Application Lifecycle Management). These applications allow you to collaborate over product development. You assign tasks to each other, file bugs, comment on each others' bugs, and so on. So in their nature, these are products that exist for the purpose of collaboration in Computer Science.
    2. Small Basic : This is a language + IDE that is a full syntax/text-based language from Microsoft. It exists for students (age 8+) to learn computer programming! So that means while it is a full object-based programming language, it's also simple, easy, and constantly teaching you. And it graduates you on... to Visual Studio Code, where you can learn VB, Java, C#, JavaScript, and Python. It also includes the capability to learn programming on Microsoft Kinect (for full body motion games and applications) and on Lego Mindstorms EV3 (giving you more power over your robots, and enabling users to learn professional computer programming in the process). And among those features for students, it also features COLLABORATION! You can publish your games or applications to the Web, where the community can openly discuss them on the forums, where you can embed them on blogs or sites, and where you can show others your code, to get feedback and advice. And, on top of that, students can use the associated import code to import each others programs into Small Basic and improve on the programs, adding features, and collaborating on each others' programs! See How Small Basic Is Social.
    3. Kodu Game Lab : Another CS learning tool from Microsoft, Kodu features symbol-based programming to teach kids (age 4+) basic programming concepts (similar to code.org). But it's 3D, features great gaming graphics, and it's for Xbox and Windows. The social and collaboration features exist in the fact that, similar to Small Basic, you can Load games from the team and the community, building and improving on each others' games!
    4. What else...? Reply below with the tool and what it does that enables social collaboration in computer science!
  3. We can make content and tutorials that appeal to girls. On Code.org, you can see that there's a Frozen (actually marketing Disney Infinity videogames) blockly module. Plus there are other licenses on there (like Star Wars, Minecraft, and Angry Birds) that can be interesting to girls. Project Spark feels a little too dark and "action-y" for some girls. Scratch and Kodu work well, as they seek bright, cute, and playful colors and characters. But they also are thought of as a little "kiddie" for older girls. Small Basic and Touch Develop are great, in that they have a ton of tutorials that work well for both genders. But perhaps both could pursue other tutorials and content that are appealing to girls. The same with C# for Unity and professional programming languages like C#, Java, JavaScript, VB, F#, Python, and Ruby. Perhaps there is a lot more that can be done with content in these languages. Here are a few of the free Microsoft solutions that feature appealing content and tutorials for girls (if you know of more Microsoft solutions to add to this list, please leave a comment with a description and link):
    1. Minecraft on Code.org : Microsoft goes all in as Microsoft, Mojang, and Code.org team together to build blockly modules that teach core programming concepts to kids (concepts you can continue and expand on with the text-based programming in Small Basic). While Minecraft isn't exclusively designed for girls, it's beloved by many girls, and this module appeals to both genders very well. See Teach Kids to Code with Minecraft and Code.org!
    2. Kodu Game Lab : Likewise, all the content for Kodu is great for girls (age 4+)! It's just as appealing to girls as it is to boys! The MSR (Microsoft Research) Fuse team did a fantastic job giving it fun, cute characters with a lot of personality, as well as bright and beautiful graphics! For older girls (age 15+), the symbol-based programming concepts are learned faster, and the bright colors and cute characters seem a bit "kiddie". But it's a great stepping stone even for the older girls to learn (maybe in a few weeks) before moving on to a sytax-based programming language like Small Basic. And for girls in ES and MS, all the way down to age 4, Kodu works fantastically!
    3. Creative Coding through Games and Apps (CCGA) : CCGA is a curriculum from Microsoft which is great for middle school students or as an introduction to computer science for older students. It leverages Microsoft Touch Develop to teach students to code!
    4. Minecraft on Tynker: On Tynker.com, students can mod Minecraft and tailor your avatar. See Tynker.com - Mod Minecraft. (Note: This isn't official or associated with Mojang or Microsoft.)
  4. We can put that content and those tutorials directly into the UI (like Kodu does). This would really make it obvious for girls that the right content exists, and it's easy to get to!
  5. We can make CS tools that appeal to girls. Finally, there's something to be said for simply making tools that appeal to both genders. That means that the creators put some thought into it, using color, UI elements, and getting women engineers and educators to collaborate when building their tools, to ensure that the tools appeal to girls too, and not just boys. Outside of Microsoft, you can see that Scratch, Code.org, and Lego Mindstorms went through this effort (as well as a host of web-based solutions that follow a similar model as Code.org). Here are the free Microsoft tools that teach students and likewise involved women in their design/development and were built to appeal to both genders. This list is given in order of age (via American school grade), that the tool can be started with:
    1. Kodu Game Lab : Use symbol-based game programming to teach core programming concepts to kids of all ages! (Grade K+)
    2. Touch Develop : Teach students how to program games and apps on a touch phone, tablet, or laptop! This teaches program concepts by dragging and dropping code elements and then editing them! (Grade 2+)
    3. Minecraft on Code.org: Leverages blockly to teach the concepts of programming with code block drag-and-drop and tweaking. (Grade 3+)
    4. Small Basic : Teach actual text/syntax-based professional coding to kids! Don't think younger kids can learn actual programming? See this list of Small Basic Student Testimonies (age 8+). The social features (share, collaborate, embed), light colors of the UI, and turtle graphics programming (like Logo)... help appeal to girls! (Grade 4+)
    5. Lego Mindstorms EV3 Basic : Teach Lego Mindstorms? Crank it up to 11 by teaching actual text-based programming by leveraging Microsoft Small Basic. See Lego Mindstorms EV3 extension for Small Basic - EV3 Basic!!! (Grade 4+)
    6. Code Hunt – Code Hunt is a game that teaches C# and Java!  Code Hunt provides a rich editing experience with syntax coloring, squiggles, search and keyboard shortcuts. (Grade 8+)

Other than the tools and content listed and linked to above, what is Microsoft doing about it? How is Microsoft helping girls? How is Microsoft helping teachers and parents?


Please reply with a comment if you know of another way Microsoft is helping educators teach girls computer science, and we'll add it to this list:

  1. Microsoft Expert Educator program : As Doug mentioned, MEE rewards innovative teachers, and we love the teachers who enable students (including involving more girls) to learn CS in innovative ways!
  2. DigiGirlz : We help high school girls learn about careers in technology, connect with Microsoft employees, and participate in computer and technology workshops! Sign up to help run a camp or club! Here's an example of what DigiGirlz is up to: DigiGirlz try out HoloLens at developer education session
  3. Teachers Network: Teachers can join our network to collaborate with the Microsoft Education team and with other teachers on methods, tools, content, and curriculum used to teach computer science to girls! See Are you a teacher?
  4. Women Engineers at Microsoft : Connect with our women engineers to get direct mentoring and advice!


I asked you to participate in a few ways! So please leave a comment with any of the following:

  1. Are there are any other tools for learning computer science that include social and collaborative features? (We've listed VSTS/TFS, Small Basic, and Kodu.) Or do you have any corrections/additions for the tools I listed?
  2. Are there any other Microsoft CS solutions that include great content for girls? (We listed Minecraft on Code.org, Kodu Game Lab, CCGA, and Minecraft on Tynker.com.)
  3. Are there any other Microsoft programs or efforts that are helping educators teach girls computer science? (We listed Microsoft Expert Educators, DigiGirlz, our Teachers Network, and Women Engineers at Microsoft.)

Thank you for reading this tome! We look forward to helping you teach computer science to girls!

- Ninja Ed