If we change the way we think about ‘coding’ and consider it as a computer art instead of a computer science, how might it reshape the teams that work in this field?
Children are tasked with practising musical instruments to improve their skills, or encouraged to join an orchestra to pool their talent. Coding could be practised in much the same way. Sketching ideas and collaborating with peers (in real-life as well as online) would help them articulate ideas/opinions, debate, learn from mistakes, cope with criticism and feel the exhilaration of team success. And of course, you’d get the input from both male and female coders to optimise the solutions being worked on.
Computer science has always been a male-dominated course of study in higher education environments. There is a misperception that one has to be “scientific” to succeed in this field, and that has led to an imbalance in workplace demographics. I believe that computer science, and more specifically coding, could be repositioned as an arts subject.
Since the term ‘computer science’ was first coined, the world has gone through massive change. IT is a growing field, penetrating every industry, and it will become necessary to train the next generation(s) in programming and coding because the way we live and work is increasingly connected and mobile. That’s why we need a mix of genders, ages, experiences and socio-economic backgrounds in the workplace, particularly in technology. Diverse teams bring to the table different opinions and experiences that help optimise product development. Innovative, forward-looking businesses recognise that it is critical.
With that in mind, I believe that the very phrase “computer science” is outdated. I agree that computer science as a field of study is based on logic and rules, but there’s also a vast creative side to coding and creating algorithms. Art is defined as “creating something from nothing” and in my opinion, this includes non-visual aspects of computing. You can be highly creative about the design of a programmatic routine, for example. A website needs to offer a great user experience, as well as functionality, which requires developers and coders to think creatively and imaginatively about human behaviour and aesthetic. “Software development,” in practice, encompasses developing the sort of technology that penetrates our everyday lives, from maps to apps. People who devise new apps are interesting. Developing a website that increases sales requires user empathy. Building an AI training system requires teamwork and an ability to interact with people all over the world. So, when “computer science” is positioned like this, it suddenly sounds more relatable and less scientific.
Indeed, there are exciting, creative opportunities out there for computer science graduates. Just some of the careers that universities promote include game developer, app developer, UX specialist and search engine optimization (SEO) specialist, for starters. Entrepreneurs or those wishing to start their own business would benefit hugely from knowledge of coding and software development, whether that’s to brief the work or do it themselves. We need to get computer science/coding on par with subjects like art or geography where the decision to specialise in these areas is based on interests and talent rather than perception (or misperception).
So, what could be done to encourage more girls to pursue into science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers? I’ve alluded to the notion of rebranding computer science as computer arts to appeal to those who can excel in this field but may be dissuaded by the science connotation. In order to do this, a change of mentality would be needed from teachers, higher education tutors, business leaders and parents. I also believe this would gradually alter the perception of coding/computer science from being a “screen-based” subject that is studied and worked on in siloes, into a creative talent that should be improved via practice and collaboration – in the same way musical skills have been honed for years. Managing screen time is a major parenting issue right now. By thinking about coding as a computer art, and therefore encouraging children to practise with fellow coders, the current heavy bias to screen time might become less so in the future.
We need to start to eliminate the IT stereotype and attract more women into studying, working and succeeding in computer science and coding. Altering the perception of computer science won’t happen overnight, and it requires influencers to position and champion this rewarding career choice as a balance of science and art.
Do you agree? Can computer science change its identity to become more of an art?
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