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Creating Opportunities for Women in Computing

For Linda Ott, debugging a program is like solving a mystery. “We don’t tell girls about computing when they’re young, so they don’t see how fun computing can be,” Ott explains. “They hear about biology and chemistry, but computing seems abstract.” And very few middle and high schools have computing courses or instructors. “Girls don’t see role models,” she adds.

Computer science is no longer lone individuals sitting in a dark room on a computer. It’s vibrant, team-based, and a lot more fun.

Ott studied computer science at Purdue University in the 1970s—a time when there were few other female computing scholars. At Michigan Tech, she is
devoted to giving more women the opportunity to discover computing.

Ott observes that when girls do have the chance to program—to create something out of nothing—they often really enjoy the experience. “It’s problem solving. They get to express ideas by writing code.”

With a grant from the Jackson National Life Insurance Company, in 2014 Ott helped restart the Women in Computer Science Summer Program. She is integral in the fundraising, curriculum, instruction, and coordination of the weeklong program that offers 36 girls from Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania the chance to discover computer science.

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Through the National Center for Women and Information Technology Pacesetters, Ott works with a cohort of academic and industry professionals who are committed to dedicating resources, brainstorming, and marketing to recruit more women into the computing fields. “There’s a spectrum of possibilities for women in computing—they may work in the user experience end or be involved as a project manager,” Ott says.

Through her work with students, Ott observes that typical computer science job descriptions are obsolete and career assessments can be misguiding. “Women might not enter this field because an assessment directs them to other areas. What they don’t realize is the wide array of skills useful in this field.” She has convinced NCWIT to take a look at this problem—and to reevaluate career assessments, too.

“Computer science is no longer lone individuals sitting in a dark room on a computer. It’s vibrant, team-based, and a lot more fun.”