Sofia V.

INTERVIEW WITH DR. BERNA MASSINGILL, CS PROFESSOR AT TRINITY UNIVERSITY

(0:06) How did you become interested in computer science?

My undergraduate degree is in math, and it goes back, I graduated from high school in 1973 to kind of give you an idea of how things were. My dad started out in physics, and at some point in his career path he drifted into engineering. And in engineering that was when people were just starting to use computers in engineering kinds of jobs, so he just kind of drifted into using them in his job and the bottom just kind of fell out of the sector of engineering that he was in and he switched to computers full time. He kept telling me, computer science- good field for a woman! And then he’d tell me this inspiring story, or it was meant to be inspiring, about a woman who ran a punch card operation out of her living room and this allowed her to have a job and raise her kids at the same time, but I thought, no I don’t think that’s for me.

 

So I went off the the University of Texas and I decided to study math, and I took one computer science course my first year, and it was really boring, compared to the math classes, and I thought why does dad tell me this? And then somehow, I think what it is, is I took a couple more classes and I had some summer jobs. I didn’t really know anything, but I could be the errand girl in a computer science company. So I did some of that, and I’m not sure exactly… So I finish this math degree and somehow I fell into a job in technology. And somewhere along the line, I discovered that programming was something that kind of seemed to have a knack for, and I kind of liked it, I was kind of good at it, and you could make money doing this. And there were no other obvious options for making money as a person with an undergraduate degree in math. I always meant to go back to school and get a master’s degree or PhD, but I was thinking math. And that just didn’t happen, and the jobs I had, I liked, and I didn’t really have any formal computer science education because in 1970, they were starting to offer degree programs in computer science, but just barely.

 

I kind of fell into the job and decided that I liked it, and one thing led to another, and I spent about ten years in various jobs doing things, and the companies were willing to send me to training schools and I learned a lot on the job, and this was just kind of what people did in those days. And at some point, at one of my jobs I was doing software development in Austin after having been several different places, and I don’t remember how I got interested, but I decided to go back and take a couple classes at University of Texas part time. Just to see, because I thought those classes I took as an undergraduate were really boring. I kind of got the idea from someone I worked with, that maybe things had changed. I get in this class and I discover that, the academic computer science is about abstract stuff, and as a former math major, I liked that. It took me exactly one class, to decide, I think this is going to be a worthwhile use of my time. And I was so happy, so I took some classes part time, and I was thinking maybe at some point I’d like to go back to graduate school and get an advanced degree.  You can just see that my career path is not exactly planned.

 

At some point I took the GRE maybe if I had about another year of classes worth to do before I was ready to apply. But I got the GRE scores back and they were really good and I was doing research with a faculty member at the University of Texas with an independent studies class, and I told him what they were, I bragged a bit. And he said, well it’s funny you should mention that, because I’m still in touch with the people from my graduate school, and they’re reviewing applications for next year, and we’re always looking for women who look like they’d be qualified, and we never get any applications. And I know its a month past the deadline, but I bet if you send them an application, you know, maybe. I said, OK, maybe. So I sent them the application and one thing led to another, and here I am.  I kind of fell into it, with a degree in math. And I think that’s not atypical with people who got into computing from the 1970s, which is what I did.

 

(5:21) Did you notice the gender disparity in your classes, if so, what was it like in your CS classes?

 

The way I remember it is, there were never a lot of women in the math classes, or in the computer science classes. But I think it peaked, from what I’m reading now, in nineteen eighty something, and that there were more then, then there are now. And I just find this flabbergasting, you know in biology there are more women than men now, and some of the other sciences, and it was always pitched to me as this is a particularly female friendly field. Because physics has centuries of excluding women, and thinking they’re not up to this, they can’t do it, and math, you know, why bother their little heads? But computer science, has only existed as a field for thirty or forty years, so there isn’t all these centuries of entrenched prejudice, so how did it happen, that instead, we have new prejudices? I don’t know.

 

When I was taking classes, as someone with an undergraduate degree in math, I was kind of used to the idea of it, that there wouldn’t be a lot of other women in the classroom. It would be me and maybe a few others, but there wouldn’t be very many. So it didn’t seem weird to me. My personal take on this,  sometimes when it’s me in the room and a bunch of undergraduate guys, it does bug me a little bit. Is it less than when I was a student? I don’t remember, this is why I read in the popular press about women in computing. My pet theory is that it’s video games, it’s something to do with that.

 

(7:44) Do you know about #gamergate?

 

I know a little bit, I know what’s been in the popular press. That and I am on the mailing list for women in computer science, so I follow the articles that they have sent out. My perception is that for a long time, for a lot of the games, it’s about rescuing the princess and killing the dragon, and what is there for a woman to relate to? All the female characters, they look like Barbies. You can see why this would appeal to a teenage/adolescent boy with no social skills. But what’s the appeal to the teenage girls? I’m not so sure it’s there. Although I know some young women who play games. But now it’s not even rescuing the princess and slaying the dragon, it’s this horrible, misogynistic, violent, I don’t even know what word to use. I don’t know that I personally have seen a lot of this, but the stories I hear, especially from the young women, I just think, good god. No wonder they don’t stay in the field. I’m surprised they have the gumption to be in it in the first place. And on this mailing list, I do hear from young women that say I never seen any of this, I’ve been treated like any of my coworkers and its fine. And then you go hear the other side of some stories, that are just hair raising.

 

(10:05) Have you heard of the imposter syndrome? Have you ever experienced it?  How do you think women should approach this, do you have any suggestions for overcoming it?

 

Yes, I personally can remember I finished my PhD, and I did a two year post-doc, and somewhere in the middle of that I thought I might want to get a faculty job, but the very idea of assistant professor was just preposterous. And the woman who was supervising me said, well you’ll never know if you can do it, unless you try. Just try, what’s the worst that can happen. I went to graduate school with people who were, frankly they were out of my league intellectually, and it was a good school. So I think some of them were smarter than me, some of them not.  I think you aren’t always not the best judge of your own ability. I don’t want to answer from my own point of view. There was one course that I taught, we offer one course that is basically math for CS majors.For some reason students not getting it in that course, they don’t come for help very often. The students in other courses, sometimes they do, they realize they’re not getting it, but in this course she was the only one who ever came. She was in my office and she was asking me some question and about the problem she was working on, and she said, OK, alright, I just don’t feel like I’m getting it. I said, well you have the second highest average in the class, if you’re not getting it, nobody is!  And she kind of blinked and looked at me, like, really?

 

I had another female student who said that she had come to Trinity thinking she was going to major in, one of the liberal arts or the humanities, but all of the people who’d been around her, her parents, and all of her teachers in high school, said no, you should go into some engineering or STEM fields because you’re really good at this stuff. And she said, and they’d tell me that, and I’d think no, it’s because the classes are easy. No it’s not that the classes are easy. I think she got over it. By the end of her time at Trinity, she was making suggestions about how we could improve our courses, and generally being a little obnoxious about her newfound self-confidence.

 

As soon as I talk to young men who are like, well I’m just not good at this, well yes you are. I see some of it, I don’t see a lot of it. I think some people don’t have this problem. I think that the real thing is, I guess if I see this in someone, often it is, there are people who think they’re imposters who really are. That has to be one of the possibilities, right? But the ones that are really good at it, you just have to tell them, no, you’re not the best judge of this. I think that young men get raised to pretend if they can’t actually do something to pretend, to fake it. Women don’t get raised that way, and I don’t why that should be, but that’s how it seems to turn out a lot. You just have to tell them, just because the person next to you seems to be getting it, is not necessarily a reliable indicator. And those of us who know about the students relative ability can say, people have been known to exaggerate their abilities, and sometimes to themselves, as much as anyone else.

 

I have read things in the popular press, that there have been studies done with people who actually are ignorant and not very capable, are more apt to having an inflated sense of their abilities than the people who are smart and capable. The ones who are smart and capable, know exactly how much better they could be. I’ve never really looked into this, but I have read articles in the popular press and I think, well that’s interesting. When I spot this, I mostly say, you’ve got the second highest average in the course, if you’re not getting it, no one is.

 

(15:34) What’s your favorite programming type?

 

I don’t know that I have a favorite. One of my colleagues, Dr. Lewis, is fond of telling his students that they should always have, he calls them “side projects” something that’s not really related to any of your classes, or if for me, it would be anything related to the classes I might be teaching, or doing or thinking about doing for research. It’s just something I’m interested in. They have been all over the map, I don’t know that I’ve ever really been interested in games, but one year he and I kind of team taught write like an arcade style video game, and he had kind of put together a framework for them to sort of start with. And I was the first guinea pig to see how it worked with what they were going to be doing, and I followed that. So it’s all over the map.

 

This past summer, I got interested in a website called projecteuler.com, it’s math problems that require programming to solve easily. And it’s a whole series of problems from very easy to somewhat difficult and I got interested in those. I think, one of the things that I have fun with that I think why it would be fun is not really obvious to people who aren’t in this field is… my mom, everytime I go to visit, she’s rearranged the furniture, now I don’t do this, rearrange furniture, but I do rearrange stuff in my programs, so I  think it’s the same idea, expressing itself in a really different way. I’ll write a program and I’ll decide, that this is really not well organized, it works, and it does what it’s supposed to do, and if somebody uses it, it looks ok. But internally it’s all kind of a mess, all disorganized, so I’ll rearrange the furniture. I’ll spend a couple of hours a week, and at the end as far as someone using this can tell, nothing has changed, but it’s all much better organized. I for some reason find this attractive,  I don’t know why.

 

Refactoring is the term that people use and I where that came from I don’t know. I think I’m not really visually oriented, but I can get interested in that too. There’s a whole area that is theory based and mathematical, and as a person with an undergraduate degree in math, that appeals to me. I think it doesn’t appeal to everybody, I don’t do much with it. The course we have is math for CS majors, I taught that for many years and it was really too bad, because some of our students like math, some of them don’t. I have the best, to be in that course, we start with some symbolic logic and it moves on from there a lot of math-y kind of topics and to me it was like one fun topic after another, and invariably there would be like one student in the class who would think that too, and the rest of them are sitting there like, what? I don’t want to be here.

 

(19:37) Do you teach any other CS courses now?

 

I like theory, but our department chair is also a theory guy, and one of our new faculty is also a theory guy, so that’s not really an open niche, I have somehow fallen into this thing that is, I took one class that was intro to CS at the University of Texas at Austin (UTA), as a regular undergraduate, and didn’t get interested, and didn’t really know what I was interested in, and one summer I took a summer school class at UTA in assembly language which was talking to the computer at a much more lower level. It was somewhere in that course that the light bulb went off in my head and I started to understand what I was doing, so I think that was the beginning. I am interested in understanding things at a little bit less of an abstract level than we sometimes start off with this these days, and a lot of programmers never go any deeper than that, that appeals to me too.

 

So this is almost like exactly the opposite of the theory stuff, it’s not very abstract.  We have some courses that explore that stuff for our major  we have students write a little bit of the lower level interaction with the computer stuff, we have a couple of courses that deal with things at a less abstract level. I have somehow ended up teaching all of those courses, and this is my niche. I had never really thought about it, and one of the junior faculty said, so you’re kind of the systems person, I said, maybe I am, OK, I’m fine with that. So I teach some the courses I teach off and on some of the beginning programming class. For many years I taught the second semester course. Beginning programming is hard, I got assigned to teach that two sections of that the first semester I taught at Trinity. I don’t know how this happened, or why this didn’t occur to me, but I was working pretty hard that summer trying to get the post doc stuff in a state where I could stop, and hand off what I had done to my supervisor  and call that done.

So it didn’t occur to me until about a couple of weeks before I was supposed to start teaching at Trinity teaching beginning programming, was that teaching this to people, some of who had never written a program, might be a little challenging. And I got here, and oh yeah, it was challenging. Because I remember learning to do this myself, I didn’t really remember very well at that point because it had been like ten or fifteen years. But I remembered it just well enough to kind of remember that like at first, that first semester I did well in the course, but I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. And I realized that I would be dealing with students who were also, it takes a while for it to click. I taught that course, and man when you get a student with whom it does click, now that’s rewarding. Then there are the ones that it just never does, and you can’t figure out,  you think there’s got to be some way to explain it, so that it’ll make sense, and you don’t.

And you wonder, well did I not explain it right, or was there some other approach? Is this student just not going to get it, are they not wired that way? I’ve heard something recently, because I have always heard that yes, some people’s brains pick up on stuff, and some people’s don’t. And the ones who don’t aren’t going to and they should just major in something else, because there are lots of things to be interested in. I read something recently, saying no, everybody can do, the phrase now is called “computational thinking”. I’m skeptical, but maybe. I think that most of us in this department, we have a specialty or we have something that we teach a lot but we’re all kind of generalists. Baseball has a term for this? Utility- something, we’re all kind of like that, we can teach a lot of things, and sometimes we do. We’re too small to be really specialized.

 

(24:38) Did you have a mentor in grad school or throughout your college career, and do you think this helped you at all?

 

You’d think that my dad would have played that role, because it sounds like he encouraged me in this field for some reason, things that I would later find interesting, when he tried to encourage me to do them, I wasn’t really interested. I’d find them on my own and then I’d be interested, I don’t know what that’s about. When I was an undergraduate I thought maybe I was going to major in math, so I started with calculus. Someone encouraged me to sign up for the one honors section and so the professor for that course, I got to know him a little bit and UT in those days, they didn’t really have like an academic advising structure, like Trinity. But he kind of played that role for me, informally.

I think of him as a person who mentored me toward the math degree, and after that I had about ten years of having jobs before I went back to graduate school. And I had a series of really nice bosses, but that’s not really the same thing. In graduate school you have these advisors, I had a true world class, I don’t know that he mentored me, but he was kind, he was patient, he was incredibly smart and after I finished, he got me through the process and there were time that I thought you know, this is just taking forever and I’m having trouble. I did this two year post doc with a woman who had been someone he knew, and he kind of recommended her, he said she would be someone good to work with, because she’s “one of the smartest people I know”. I thought, man is this high praise, and she was interested in theory and I was interested in that, and in a way somehow again, serendipity we got access to some funding to do something that was not theory.

So I ended up not doing theory with her at all. She had more really good little pithy comments on how to work people, so in a way she was kind of a mentor, in a way that I totally didn’t expect. She had a lot of suggestions on how to work with other people, she was the one that said, when I’d say “but I don’t know if I want to apply for these faculty jobs, because I don’t know if I could do that” and she’d say “you’re not going to know unless you try”. The first semesters at Trinity were a little strange, and the people calling me Professor Massingil, but then you get used it. And well you know, I do know more than they do, so I don’t know everything. There was a succession of people that I learned from.

 

(28:27) Do you have any recommendations for gaining coding experience as a non- computer science major of any background/range of coding experience? We have previously worked with codeacademy.org as a class, do you have any recommendations outside of this?


I have actually not had any experience with the online introduction to CS. We’re not really sure what’s going to happen with the new curriculum and the digital literacy requirement. I think most of us, there are a couple of people in this department who really push to have that digital literacy requirement. Most of think that, with what’s happening in the world, everybody should understand computational thinking. Not everyone is going to be programmers, but everybody can learn to think a little bit like programmers think. And I think it helps you understand that this little thing (referencing an iPhone 5s) has got more processing power than the room-sized computers that I worked with when I was starting out.

I’m tempted to say, I hope that this digital literacy requirement will turn out well, and that everyone will get exposure to thinking like a CS person and that this will be good. With the old curriculum we do offer a couple of intro courses there’s the hardcore one for CS majors that the engineers and the math majors take and some of the other science majors take, and it meets the “Understanding Scientific Methods” requirement, but we have had people taking it only for that purpose and it is often not pretty. It’s a little mathematical, it’s pretty fast paced, it’s hard, we introduce a course called “intro to programming logic” which is kind of a milder version of that course for non STEM people. And I would say that, unfortunately we don’t have enough faculty to staff it so that a lot of people might take it. I think it’s a good course, we try to give the students some exposure, understanding that they’re not going to be programmers, and to give them just enough.

At UT we called it “math appreciation”, kind of like art appreciation, you aren’t going to be an artist, but you can learn to appreciate the work of those who do. The online courses can work, the fact that they seem wildly successful suggests that this can work. To me it’s really hard to believe that you can really get started without having someone who can help you in person. Because someone who is just starting out, using programming, you’re telling the computer what to do. It’s a series of logical, methodological, here’s the computer, do this for me. Computer’s are so picky, they don’t understand human language, the understand their language and they’re incredibly picky, every comma has to be just so, in ways that humans don’t care about. When you’re just starting out, it’s really hard and I think having someone help you pass that first stage where you just can’t. It tells you no, I’m not doing that. And someone with experience can say, oh, its because you made this mistake. I don’t know how you get past that, without someone to look over your shoulder and tell you, maybe the online courses have figure out a way to do that. I can’t help thinking that it really is a big plus if you are in an environment where you have someone who can help you, and I think we’re pretty good.

Many of the faculty here teach that beginning course, I tried but I can only do so much, they are good about working with the students and getting them past that I don’t know how to do anything stage. We have a student chapter of the professional organization ACM that does tutoring, and I think they do a good job. My piece of advice is you can try one of the online courses, signing up for an actual formal course, I think our courses are good about giving you the conceptual stuff in addition to the details is really important. We’re understaffed, so it won’t be an option for everybody, but whatever you do to get started, if you can find a live helper, someone who can get you through that first stage, I think it’s a good idea. One of my own little stories is how I took this course and I didn’t understand anything, and it was the next summer that I worked with my dad, and they gave me clerical stuff to do. He would try to get me to do stuff that was actual programming, and just stuff that would help him, he thought, well they’re not keeping her busy with this clerical stuff, I’ll give her some projects to do. So he would explain to me what he wanted me to do, and I said OK, I’ll try it.

That was in the days when people drew flow charts to program, so I drew flow charts, and it filled the whole page, and it was really complicated it had all of these boxes and arrows going sixteen directions. I said ok, dad here it is what do you think? He looked at it, and the way I remember this, but you know it was a really long time ago, so I may be misremembering but he got out a sheet of paper and he drew about three or four boxes and it was really simple. I looked at it, and i thought, and once I saw what he was doing, and how it was so much simpler than the way I thought about the problem it was like the lightbulb coming on, so I think this is what has to happen at some point. You have this moment of not having any idea to saying, oh, I see. When I went back to school to take some more classes part time, I had another one of those light bulb moments. It was a similar kind of thing, I had been doing stuff in my jobs in which they were these pictures of how these things were organized, and I hadn’t noticed this, but they all had sort of somethings in common.

They all had various ways of expressing the same abstract idea. So I’m in this second semester of programming class and at some point I know a lot more than the other students, but I don’t really have any abstract conceptual stuff. And they draw this picture and it’s like all of a sudden this light bulb comes on, all that stuff that I’ve been seeing in the different jobs, it’s all versions of this. It’s an abstract idea, and you can talk about it like an abstract idea. Do you know, I believe I’m going to get something out of this course? And I did. And so I signed up for the next course and then one thing led to another. So somebody to teach you the abstract stuff. Maybe it’s codeacademy.org, maybe it’s a course at a good school, and somebody to work with.

Interview with Andrea A, Trinity University First-year CS student

What got you interested in CS?

I think there is just so much that you can do with computer science. Computer science just opens the door to a lot of different things. Like, everything nowadays needs computer science; we’re all on our computers.

Have you noticed any serious gender gap in your CS classes?

Oh actually, the class that I was in, like the whole front row in the computer science lab was made up of girls. There was actually a really good amount of girls in there.

So, you withdrew from the introductory computer science course this semester, what prompted you to do so?

Well, my grades weren’t that great, and I felt like if I started over next semester I could do better. Because I really want to do [computer science] but it wasn’t working at this point. And I just need to start over.

So you’re still interested in CS? First semester didn’t deter you?

No, I know I can do it. I just need to be in the right mindset. I just did not really come in that prepared and just the whole starting off college and everything—it just wasn’t the right time for me yet. All of the professors are really enthusiastic and really encouraging. And I really like that about here. Computer science is definitely something that you have to come into and be ready to read a lot and actually really follow along with the lessons. If you slack off a little bit you are going to get left behind. So I suggest before taking [CSCI-1320] maybe get the book beforehand and watch a couple of the videos for Scala. And keep up with the reading and do the homework, because computer science is hard but interesting.

Interview with Julia K, Trinity University sophomore CS student

What led you to CS? What prompted you to take the intro course last year?

In high school I did a lot of engineering/pre-med stuff, I always knew that I wanted to go into science. And then I did like the coolest thing ever and I went to engineering camp one summer. It was basically just overnight camp but they made us learn how to code and do MATLAB and C and C++, and I just really liked it. I actually liked it a lot more than I did the actual engineering stuff. So I decided I would rather code than be an engineer.

So you had experience with C and C++, but had you ever tried working with Java or Scala (which Trinity teaches intro classes in).

I got here and I barely knew what I was doing. I had some basic stuff from camp, but that was it. I kind of just stuck it out.

Have you ever had a moment where doubted majoring in CS?

Oh, all the time. I can think of a million reasons why anyone would quit CS. I mean, they make it hard for a reason. Kind of all of last year I was just wondering if this was like, the right thing for me, but, I don’t know. I just stayed in the classes and talked to my professors and my advisor and he thought I should at least stay one more semester and he was right, I actually really enjoy it. Once you finally start learning how to code and have a sense of what you’re doing it’s not even that bad anymore.

What is one moment that you are particularly proud of in you programming experience thus far?

I think it is hard to differentiate the moments because when you finish something and it works, and you know you did it all by yourself—you figured it out all by yourself—there’s nothing like that feeling. It is just like a straight high. And that’s how it is every time. So I cannot necessarily differentiate each time, but it is pretty freaking awesome.

So what is your goal in industry? Do you want to work in a technical position?

I don’t know, I mean coding is fun, but it’s not the entire industry. And I’d like to get out and see what that’s like, just try everything—whether it’s technical or managerial or something like that.

Have you ever had an experience with imposter syndrome? Have you ever felt like maybe you weren’t as qualified or as good as other around you?

Oh, everyday of my life. But, that is what makes it fun. For me it’s not necessarily a competition but it is a lot more fun for me to think that I am playing catch up and it makes me work a lot harder. It helps to motivate me.

What advice would you give a young girl who wants to go into a STEM field of study?

Definitely try it. Try all facets of it, see what you like see what you don’t and don’t just quit because you think it is hard are you don’t think you can do it. Because you definitely can, you just have to stick with it. But at the same time, don’t stick with it just to stick with it, stick with it because you like it. CS is badass. It is going to be one of the most important jobs in the next 20 years and everyone should take a class.

Interview with Dr. Mark Lewis, Trinity University CS professor

How did you get involved with computer science when you were younger? It was when I was young. One of the first home PCs that came out was the TI-99 and this was a small device that had a keyboard, the computer part was built in, and it hooked up to a TV. And my parents bought one, so I started playing around with it and I was seven at the time. On that particular machine you had two options, it had a little cartridge thing you could push in much like a came cartridge or you could program in basic. Those were your only two options. So anyone who had a computer at that time, you learned how to program because that was about the only thing you could do on your computer. And then it was something that I kind of continued pursuing playing with. I also do a lot of physics stuff so there were periods of time where I would use the computer primarily as a tool for physics and math and then when I came to college I double majored in the two.

How aware are you of the gender gap in the tech industry? I don’t know about the tech industry, but in this department, very. Though I feel like it has improved—so, one of the things that happened after the dot com bubble burst, enrollment in computer science nation wide dropped. And the media liked to talk about outsourcing and basically they had this line that there were, ‘no more programming jobs in the US. All the programming jobs were going to India and you just couldn’t get a programming job in the US.’ Which of course wasn’t true. But a lot of people believed it. And there were a lot of times that at recruiting events I would have to convince parents that their were still jobs in computer science. But that had an interesting impact upon the gender balance because in a small department like our if the enrollment goes below a certain size, we’d have situations where freshman year you would have like two, maybe three women come in; they were probably in different sections of the classes, they didn’t necessarily know about each other and when the numbers get too small there is a significant feeling of isolation. And so, you would go from having just a small number of women to zero because they’d felt like they were alone and drop out [of CS]. Because enrollments are going up now that aspect is kind of naturally fixing itself. Where getting past that threshold where people feel like they’re isolated and just having other women around helps the ones that are there stick around in the department. So I feel like we’re getting almost up to about 30 percent. So last year the algorithms class that I taught was about 7 out of 21. So around 3o percent is what we are seeing in this department right now. Obviously that is still not parody, but compared to the 10 percent where it had been not too long before that, it’s an improvement. It’s a significant improvement. In industry, I don’t actually see industry all that much, I read the reports on it, but that’s not what is highly visible to me.

How do you feel the Women in Computing club is affecting the gender disparity here at Trinity? How is it doing and how do you think it is helping? I think [Trinity University Women In Computing] is beneficial in that it prevents, once again, that sense of isolation. Everyone gets to see everyone else and acknowledge that there are other women in the department, and I think that is very beneficial. It forms a cohort of people that can support each other. It’ll be interesting, and in some ways since this is only the second year it has existed, you’ll have to see over time how this affects recruiting. Because this would be just at the beginning of possibly affecting recruiting. And in some ways it doesn’t impact first year recruiting. First years come in and are picking what they want to major in based on what they thought they wanted to major in prior to getting to Trinity. Where it could have an interesting impact is if sophomores who are disillusioned with whatever their first choice major was, how often women in that situation choose to look at computer science. And I think Kylie [the president] has done a very good job making this visible across the campus, so it will be interesting to see how much of an impact that has because it definitely could have a significant impact but we won’t know for a few years yet.

What is the department itself at Trinity doing to increase visibility just within the university? In some ways walk a fine line there, because our enrollments are growing whether we do anything to increase our visibility, right now computer science is a hot field—here and everywhere else. Which, we are currently at seven faculty and we’re overloading a few of our classes next semester to get everyone in, which leads to the, ‘Hmm, maybe we don’t want to recruit too heavily right now.’ Next year we should have an eighth faculty member that will allow us more flexibility to do such things. Once again, after the dot com bubble burst and there was that low point, I actually went and put of posters and stuff like that and tried to just promote computer science in general. I would do things like out up stuff on lower campus where the first years were running around. Right now we haven’t been because were at a stage where, at least this year, we don’t want too many more people. In some ways we’d love to have them but we don’t have seats for them. So hopefully the addition of another faculty member next year, and a lot of things are happening even outside of us. So, the MIS [management information systems] minor is growing in popularity, the business analytics major that was just created requires CS 1. SO there are a number of things that are happening outside of the computer science department that are pushing more people to take at least an intro course in it. We think that’s wonderful, as long as we can staff them. We’re kind of in a phase right now where we don’t feel a strong need for us to promote for people to come into computer science. We do for the recruiting, so we have this Trinity in Focus event coming up and we participate in those things, we try to get first years coming in who are interested in it and make sure they realize that Trinity does have a strong computer science department. And especially if you compare it to other small schools in Texas, none of the other small schools in Texas really come close to what we have. Rice is the only other school below 10,000 that has a strong computer science department. And so we want to make sure that people are aware of that, who visit here to know that it is an option. And that’s one of the things that computer science faces is that a lot of high school students think that if you want to major in computer science that you need to go to a big engineering type university. And that’s really not the case. You have to be selective in what small schools you look at, but there are a lot of benefits to having the individual attention a place like Trinity can provide when you are learning to code. Because honestly, learning to program can be extremely frustrating and that’s how computer science starts off. The end goal is you use the computer to build wonderful things and affect peoples lives, but in order to do that you have to learn how to talk to a computer. So the early steps of learning how to program can be very challenging for a lot of people; and it really helps to be able to come in and talk to faculty and get one on one time. Which you don’t do at UT or A&M.

What do you suggest a student who is late to the game but still wants to learn how to code do? So the question is how much do you want to learn how to code. So how much is your desire and how far do you want to go. So if you want a basic knowledge, a course we have for that is CSCI-1311, which unfortunately because of the staffing issues we’ve had very few sections of, so we have one section of it right now for next spring, but it is full and has 24 people on the waitlist. So that one is a little over subscribed, our hope is to have more seats there because that is really intended to be a general introduction to computer programming. And if all you wanted was one class to give you the basics that’s the route you would go. But that class doesn’t necessarily lead on to anything, it is not the prerequisite for anything we do. So then CSCI-1320, which is our standard CS 1, is a more rigorous introduction that leads on to CS 2, there is a low level computing class on through the major or the minor. It turns out the way our major is structured you can start the beginning of your sophomore year and you don’t have to break any prerequisites, our longest prerequisite structure is six semesters. So someone who is getting a late start as in the beginning of sophomore year, that’s not technically a late start for us. After that you won’t major in computer science, even picking up the minor at that point would be potentially challenging, just getting the number of hours in. Some of the majors like engineering and pre-med start off really broad because you have to take—so for premed you have to take your chemistry and your biology and you need an intro physics class and you need some calculus, there’s this whole set of intro classes that you don’t even have time for so they end up getting staggered a little bit. Engineering has a similar type of thing, where right off the bat they’re like, ‘You need to take all of this.’ We’re not like that. We have one class right up front; it is our introductory programming course and then things kind of spread out after that.

My Experience with HTML

As someone who has never coded before, I was a little intimidated by this assignment. Despite everything we have talked about in this class, such as how we should encourage people to learn how to code, or how some people taught themselves to code with much simpler and lesser resources, I anticipated that I would struggle with this assignment. I was actually pleasantly surprised. I chose to work with HTML and I found that the instructions made the assignments very easy. I found myself excited to go on to the next steps, because learning something as simple as being able to place a link in a picture through HTML, felt like a step forward to creating bigger and better things on my own. I look forward to trying out the other tutorials, and I hope to share this resource with anyone who will listen.

The most rewarding thing about this assignment was realizing that coding doesn’t have to be an inaccessible form of literacy. While I know I’m not ready to create my own website just yet, I look forward to learning how. This resource makes this an approachable way of learning. When I began the tutorial and found that it was very easy to follow the instructions, and the feedback helped me fix whatever wasn’t right, it was really enjoyable. The instructions were very straightforward, and I think it would be a great place for beginners to start.



HTML Basics Badge from Codeacademy.com