'CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap' shows past, present and future of women in tech - Technical.ly DC

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Jun. 22, 2015 10:44 am

‘CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap’ shows past, present and future of women in tech

Starring local technologists Aliya Rahman, Shannon Turner and Megan Smith, the movie was featured this weekend at the American Film Institute's annual documentary film festival.
Director Robin Hauser Reynolds interviews U.S. CTO Megan Smith, right, in “CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap.”

Director Robin Hauser Reynolds interviews U.S. CTO Megan Smith, right, in "CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap."

(Courtesy photo)

In “CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap,” a documentary that played this weekend at the AFI Fest, director Robin Hauser Reynolds explored why women are underrepresented in the technology field today — and how that will impact tomorrow’s economy.

Reynolds’s first inspiration for the film was her daughter, who became discouraged by a college computer science class where she was one of only two women.

“For the first time in her academic career she was starting to express a little bit of doubt,” said Reynolds.

Intrigued, she traced the history of women in tech back to early pioneers like Ada Lovelace, who was billed as designing the first algorithm for a machine.

To her surprise, she found that technology’s gender problem was a rather recent phenomenon.

“There were more women in computer science in the mid-’80s than there are now,” she said.

In the process, she talked to scores of women technologists, including local figures like U.S. CTO Megan Smith, Hear Me Code founder Shannon Turner and Code for Progress program director Aliya Rahman.

Rahman’s appearance was an impromptu one: they met when she approached Hauser at The Hub Oakland, where the director interviewed Black Girls CODE founder Kimberly Bryant.

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“She was a female coder and she also happened to be a pilot and a DJ,” who is now “teaching people who are marginalized,” said Hauser. “I was fascinated by that.”

Diversity in the workplace should concern not just activists, but also time-strapped founders, she said. “Startups should try to resist having just the 20-something-year-old guys that you happened to have studied computer science with.”

She believes that computer science should become a mandatory subject matter in schools, but that a culture shift also needs to happen.

“If a young African-American girl doesn’t see anybody else like her in the industry, it’s certainly hard for her to believe that she could be the next Steve Jobs,” said Hauser.

“Coding can be part of fashion, it can be part of the film industry, it can be part of photography, it can be part of science and medicine,” she said. “It has endless opportunities, endless boundaries.”

So, has Hauser’s daughter changed her mind about studying computer science?

Yes and no.

“She’s combining her understanding for technology and the classes she took in coding … with her very, very artistic side,” said Hauser.

She is learning graphic design.

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