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To my daughter's high school programming teacher

Update 2 (wherein my daughter chimes in): As I said, my daughter is in India for a year, so she didn't see this article until Wednesday, September 11. I wasn't sure how she'd feel about me sharing her story and all the attention it received. Luckily, my daughter thanked me for writing about her experience. I asked her whether she had any corrections for the article. "Um, maybe tell them that I did actually talk to the teacher and I tried to tell the guys to quit being jerks," she said. "He told the principal, and it was really embarrassing, which is probably why I didn't tell you. And I gave up after that," she explained. My daughter said that, after bringing the problem to the teacher's attention several times, she finally asked him whether she could talk to the entire class about sexual harassment, he told her he'd think about it, and that's when he reported the situation to the principal. "And a couple days later I was in the principal's office being explained to that it wasn't my place to do that, and I just mumbled answers to get out of there as soon as possible because I was really, really embarrassed and fighting back tears." Before my daughter signed off our online chat, she asked me why I wrote about her story now. I told her about Alexandra, the nine-year-old girl who presented her app at the TechCrunch Disrupt hackathon, and the titstare app developers who shared the same stage. "Well, I'm sorry that crap happened ... to both of us," she said. I am, too.

Update: Thank you for all the great feedback on this post! For those of you wondering why I chose the USENIX blog as my platform — instead of another tech publication or my personal site — it's because the USENIX membership and community have a long history of working toward increasing diversity in IT and supporting women in tech. Many of you suggested immediate action is needed to help combat this issue. I agree and that's why I'm working with USENIX on their Women in Advanced Computing (WiAC) initiative via the WiAC Summits and the Facebook WiAC page, as well as other efforts within the community. I hope you'll join us in this effort.

** trigger alert
(violence and rape references)

Dear sir,

I'm not writing to complain about your choice of programming languages (Visual Basic? Seriously??) or about the A my daughter earned in your class. And, actually, my daughter had no specific complaints about you as a teacher. I, on the other hand, have plenty of feedback for you.

First, a little background. I've worked in tech journalism since my daughter was still in diapers, and my daughter had access to computers her entire life. At the ripe old age of 11, my daughter helped review her first tech book, Hackerteen. She's been a beta tester (and bug finder) for Ubuntu (Jaunty Jackalope release), and also used Linux Mint. Instead of asking for a car for her 16th birthday, my daughter asked for a MacBook Pro. (I know, I know ... kids today.)

My daughter traveled with me to DrupalCon in Denver for "spring break", attended the expo at OSCON 2012, and even attended and watched me moderate a panel at the first Women in Advanced Computing (WiAC '12) conference at USENIX Federated Conferences Week. Thanks to my career, my daughter's Facebook friends list includes Linux conference organizers, an ARM developer and Linux kernel contributor, open source advocates, and other tech journalists. My daughter is bright, confident, independent, tech saavy, and fearless. In fact, she graduated high school last May — two years early — and is now attending high school in India as her "gap year" before heading off to college.

So what's the problem?

During the first semester of my daughter's junior/senior year, she took her first programming class. She knew I'd be thrilled, but she did it anyway.

When my daughter got home from the first day of the semester, I asked her about the class. "Well, I'm the only girl in class," she said. Fortunately, that didn't bother her, and she even liked joking around with the guys in class. My daughter said that you noticed and apologized to her because she was the only girl in class. And when the lessons started (Visual Basic? Seriously??), my daughter flew through the assigments. After she finished, she'd help classmates who were behind or struggling in class.

Over the next few weeks, things went downhill. While I was attending SC '12 in Salt Lake City last November, my daughter emailed to tell me that the boys in her class were harassing her. "They told me to get in the kitchen and make them sandwiches," she said. I was painfully reminded of the anonymous men boys who left comments on a Linux Pro Magazine blog post I wrote a few years ago, saying the exact same thing.

My September 8, 2010 post, Inequality, Choices, and Hitting a Wall, discussed illegal gender discrimination in tech. The next day, comments started popping up on the post. Sure, the sandwich comments were easy enough to shrug off at first, but within a few minutes, the comments increased in numbers and intensity. And then the threats of violence started: "The author of this article is a whiny bitch and needs a good beating to be put in her place." Ten minutes later, the rape threats began, and I shut down our comments site-wide. And then the emails started...

So, you see, I was all too familiar with what my daughter was going through, but I was unprepared for the harassment to start in high school, in her programming class.

I consulted with friends — female developers — and talked to my daughter about how to handle the situation in class. I suggested that she talk to you. I offered to talk to you. I offered to come talk to the class. I offered to send one of my male friends, perhaps a well-known local programmer, to go talk to the class. Finally, my daughter decided to plow through, finish the class, and avoid all her classmates. I hate to think what less-confident girls would have done in the same situation.

My daughter has no interest in taking another programming class, and really, who can blame her.

For her entire life, I'd encouraged my daughter to explore computer programming. I told her about the cool projects, the amazing career potential, the grants and programs to help girls and women get started, the wonderful people she'd get to work with, and the demand for diversity in IT. I took her with me to tech conferences and introduced her to some of the brightest, most inspiring and encouraging women and men I've ever met.

Sadly, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and you, sir, created a horrible one for girls in computer programming.

Did you not see her enthusiasm turn into a dark cloud during the semester? Did you not notice when she quit laughing with and helping her classmates, and instead quickly finished her assignments and buried her nose in a book? What exactly were you doing when you were supposed to be supervising the class and teaching our future programmers?

I'm no teacher, so forgive me if you think I'm out of place when it comes to telling you how to do your job. But I am a mother, and I've spent years encouraging girls and women in IT, so perhaps my perspective will help you. After all, you didn't mean to create a a brogrammer-to-be environment, did you?

Here are seven suggestions for teaching high school computer programming:

  1. Recruit students to take your class. Why was my daughter the only girl in your class? According to her, she only took the class because I encouraged it. My daughter said she wouldn't have known about the programming class, otherwise. (I'm adding this to my "parenting win" page in the baby book.) Have you considered hanging up signs in the school to promote your class? Have you asked the school counselors to reach out to kids as they plan their semesters? Have you spoken to other classes, clubs, or fellow teachers to tell them about why programming is exciting and how programming fits into our daily lives? Have you asked the journalism students to write a feature on the amazing career opportunities for programmers or the fun projects they could work on? Have you asked current students to spread the word and tell their friends to try your class?
  2. Set the tone. On the first day of class, talk about the low numbers of women and lack of diversity in IT, why this is a problem, and how students can help increase diversity in programming. Tell students about imposter syndrome and how to help classmates overcome it. Create an inclusive, friendly, safe learning environment from day one. I thought this was a no brainer, but obviously, it's not.
  3. Outline, explain, and enforce an anti-harassment policy.
  4. Don't be boring and out-of-date. Visual Basic? Seriously?? Yes, I know I said I'm not writing to complain about your choice of programming languages, even though I'm still scratching my head on this one. The reason I mention your choice is that it doesn't help you make a good first impression on new programmers. I have no idea what my teen learned in your class because she wasn't excited about it. Without touching your minuscule class budget, you can offer a range of instruction with real-world applications. With resources like Codecademy, for example, students could try a variety of programming languages, or focus on ones they find interesting. Have you considered showing kids how to develop a phone app? Program a Raspberry Pi? Create a computer game? Build a website? Good grief, man — how were you even able to make programming boring?
  5. Pay attention. I don't know what you were doing during class, but you weren't paying attention, otherwise you would have noticed that my daughter was isolated and being harassed. Do you expect girls to come tell you when they are being harassed? Well, don't count on it. Instead, they pull away, get depressed, or drop out completely, just like they do in IT careers. You want to know what happens when women speak up about verbal abuse or report harassment? Backlash, and it's ugly. Best case, she'll get shunned by classmates or colleagues. And hopefully she won't read any online comments...ever. But it can get much worse, with the vulgar emails and phone calls, and home addresses posted online, and threats of violence. Sadly, this isn't rare; this happens all the time, from high school on up into our careers. Don't believe me? That's because you aren't paying attention.
  6. Check in. Talk to your students in private to see how class is going for them. Talk to other teachers or school counselors. Had you talked to my daughter's counselor, for example, you would have known how class was going. The counselor worked closely with my daughter to help her graduate early, and she would have had no problem getting an honest answer about my daughter's unpleasant experience in your brogramming class. Did you expect me to call you? Believe me, I wanted to, but I also respected my daughter's request to let her handle the situation. And see number 5. Had I told you how class was going for my daughter, her situation would not have improved, and might have gotten even worse.
  7. Follow up. At the end of the semester, take a survey. Allow students to submit anonymous online answers to questions about the class material, your teaching methods, and their experience with other students. Allowing anonymity will help you get honest answers and, hopefully, you can improve your programming class for your next round of students.

Look, you don't have to tell me how hard your job is or how underpaid and overstressed you are as a high school teacher. I'm a single mother working in tech publishing — believe me, I get it. I like to think what I do is important, but what teachers do has the potential to change the world. No article I write will ever do that, but the daughter I raise might.

I spent 16 years raising a daughter who had all the tools and encouragement she needed to explore computer programming as a career. In one short semester, you and her classmates undid all of my years of encouragement.

I always told my daughter that high school isn't real life. Unfortunately, your programming class proved otherwise. In one semester, my daughter learned why there are so few women in IT, and no amount of encouragement from me is going to change that.

Comments

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While I don't agree with your statement that his "brain just worked as it had to," I do agree that there are more men in IT (not that I have to agree, per se, since it's a fact). 

Institutional Sexism is what's drilled into us from a young age.  I am a woman, and even I find myself thinking that something or someone is "obviously" a man.  It's a very hard habit to break, and I commend beingMikeH for recognizing--and yes, apologizing for--his incorrect assumptions.  It's how we evolve as individuals and as a society.

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Thanks for sharing. There is so much truth in this post. I am an aerospace engineer and know what you're talking about. I took engineering classes in high school; it wasn't the kids in my class though, it was the kids in my other classes who laughed and said I was only in engineering classes "for the boys." I didn't care, I found some great friends and an amazing support network in my classmates. Had I not had that, I might not have made it through circuits and vector calculus. Had I not had teachers who quite literally did not care what my gender was, by golly, I was going to learn to weld like everyone else, I might not have enjoyed the classes as much as I did.

I was lucky that the teasing and discouragement came from kids who weren't in my class and from my guidance counselor. It just was comical after a while, when I got to go visit NASA on a field trip and the kids would try to tease me for wanting to be an engineer. Or when I aced my AP Calculus class and exam after my guidance counselor told me I'd most certainly fail and I should just stick to the humanities.

I am so sorry your daughter is put-off from a career in computer science. I hope she reconsiders if it truly is her passion. I couldn't see myself being happy as anything other than an engineer.

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This article outlines seven sensible steps for teachers (and school administrators) to take. I would love to see a graphic or simple visual that describes what rights that students (and parents) can expect in an effective software/computer/tech classroom. School boards, national teaching associations, PTAs, and tech corporations should embrace and widely distribute these seven steps. Hang the seven steps in every classroom for all to see.

 

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In high school, I was one of two girls in my engineering class. I too faced some sexist comments including having a classmate tell me I should leave using tools to my project partner and having someone try to remove the work I was doing from my hands because they didn't like to see me using a power drill. The good news is, it gets better. I went to a very small engineering college and never had any problems with gender bias - largely because my engineering program was intentionally gender balanced. Although I knew I would never experience such a balance again, it gave me confidence in myself as a woman engineer that I don't know I would have gotten elsewhere.

Since joining the workforce, I have been tremendously impressed with how professional my colleagues are. Not only have I never head any sexist remarks (specifically aimed at women in engineering or about women in general), I find my coworkers treat me exactly the same as everyone else on the team. It is so refreshing to go to work and know that I am just an engineer on my team - not a woman engineer. This is the first time in my 11 years of engineering that most days my minority gender role doesn't even cross my mind - I'm just another engineer who my team counts on to do great work. I can't speak for every workplace, but you can tell your daughter that it gets better :).

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I read your article on Facebook link and was compelled to write a comment... It may not mean much, but here goes... FIrst of all, the VB comments undercut the serious issue of how our education centers and workplaces dissuade females from programming and other tech work. I, for one, have done quite well with VB and C#, not because of the languages specifically but because of my focus on database programming. VB is a great starter language. Pascal was used in my day for teaching and I see the choice of VB as a natural one. Of course, this is NOT the point of your article. As for the REAL issue of sexism and harassment, sadly, these issues do not go away in school. I know many female programmers and sysadmins who have been subjected to very bad work environments in spite of HR rules, state laws, and federal laws meant to protect them from people who would see women fail in the tech sector. If this happened to me or my sister at school, my mother would have been down at the school in a heartbeat, and this is what struck me about your article. While the teacher is the one with "eyes on the ground", I don't understand why the article comes after the fact. You mentioned in your article that you "offered" to talk to the teacher and "offered" to talk to the class. Without taking away anything you said about what the teacher could have done, I ask myself, why didn't you talk to the teacher? Why not speak with the principal? In fact, why didn't you take any of the steps you outlined for the teacher, such as recruiting other female students for the class and checking in with your daughter AND teacher to see how things were going? Again, the teacher may well be to blame 100% in this situation, but the teacher has multiple students in this programming class; YOU have only one. I suspect you will be defensive in reading this, and I am sorry for making you feel that way... I just KNOW my mother would have been at the school ASAP about this situation, regardless of what I said. I hope you and your daughter are doing well and that you take these comments in the spirit intended. And don't underestimate VB or your daughter. They can both probably handle more than you think. CS

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Rikki,

I'm heartbroken about your daughter's high school experience. I think the social milieu is keeping my bright daughters from even considering software development as an option. What you describe is sexual harrassment, of course, and you should involve all the student safety authorities from your resource officers (campus policepersons) to the superintendent of your school district, starting with the superintendent. There are federal laws which, if wielded, can begin to weed out the overt harrassments found in STEM classroom situations. Now that your daughter is out of the class is the time to strike a blow against this kind of thing.

I'm less heartbroken about your criticism of Visual Basic, and your focus on the end-product of a software development education, which appears to be centered around what a programmer uses to get paid. If there's anything true about the software development world, it's that  programming languages will change in popularity every year. If there's anything true about K-12 education, it's that the focus requires a balance between development of thinking skills and career/higher education preparedness. 

Your daughter was well-served by an educator's choice to use Visual Basic, in which, during her training, she won't have to bother with at least three classes of bugs found in C-based procedural languages, or the execreble C++. There are no casing bugs possible. There is a garbage-collecting memory manager. A statement ends at a line, eliminating ambiguous semicolon bugs.

And, there is no ambiguity in code block purposing (by which I mean that instead of "} } }" you have to be much more explicit: "Next : End If : End Sub" ) Those differences have, in my career, contributed to a tenfold increase in line coding speed, simply because I don't have to watch for those errors. Because, yeah, I make a pile of money writing code in Visual Basic. Glorious, industrially useful, multithreaded code with 3D graphics and HPC elements. I interface it with Fortran, C#, C++, and other code. It's also paid me very well to recognize that users want the end result of our software development efforts and not the choice of technologies used to get to that end result. 

Thus, a choice of VB (unless it was VB6, in which case you have funding and other political dragons to slay as well as the harsh environment) was not stupid. It might even have been a little bit smart.

But I'm also versed in K-12 administrative language: I strongly recommend that you separate the curriculum criticism and the harrassment issues into two letters and hand them both to the school district superintendent in a face to face meeting, while simultaneously copying the principal and perhaps the teacher involved. Say to him or her, "This is a *problem of practice* and the environment is a violation of federal and state law. You and your staff must be involved before someone less kindly disposed takes this further than a letter to you and a meeting."

And if they won't meet, involve the local chapters of NOW and the STEM-for-women orgs in the area. (If you're in the PDX area (OSCON!) I might be disposed to stand with you! And show you the VB.NET programs I write. :-) ) 

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I was thinking the same thing about the basics of programming and an ideal way to learn the fundamentals.  The rub is that some kids are far beyond those basics and want to take classes that actually challenge them based on where they are (not the lowest common denominator).  Schools of course make kids take one class before they can take another so force this laborious process and in the end, bore students into NOT wanting to pursue something they once really liked.  I agree programming should be taught in school, but I think there should be some type of aptitude test so kids can test out of the into classes.  Alternatively let the kids take classes online (my son's a senior in HS and takes classes at the local community college and gets both HS and College credit which is a good alternative).  And if that's doable, online classes should be just as doable.  Did I mention my first computer class in school was Cobol?  LOL!  Yes, I'm 43!  Whatever...don't judge ;D

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PinkieSquare, you're right, in my view. All the *good* CS programs I've heard of have a placement test but they're also all at university level. Fighting to get a bright kid into an advanced public school class is always a chore. The systems are set up to make it a chore, not to mention the problems K-12 systems have finding good maths teachers in the first place. 

Beyond that, funding advanced software development classes through K-12 math departments is going to be problematic as long as there are forces insisting that teachers get paid too much. (I'm also 43! And COBOL was a fine language for its use cases! (says the Fortran programmer!) )  

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If I had a daughter, I would have the perfect response for her. "So you need help with Basic, and you can't even make your own food? How helpless are you?" or "I'm sorry, I didn't realize that you're too stupid to feed yourself.". That said, as a Developmental Chef, I feel offended. Cooking is not easy, especially when you are trying to make something new. You have to balance taste, and it has to be different enough that you can tell it's different, but you can't make it too different because people don't like things that are too different, even though that's what they ask for. Just pick up a cookbook and see the innovations! The only person these boys are insulting, is themselves.

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As a marketer, I'd totally be down to design posters that all programming teachers can use to promote their classes to all students. Wish I knew about programming class when I was in high school. 

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I do have to agree with some of the other commentors asking why your daughter is taking a VB class in the first place when it's clearly below her abilities. However... I'm not sure what you expect to gain to openly flaying the teacher from the Indian high school that your daughter was attending. Because I'm pretty certain you said she'd graduated 2 years early and was now attending a high school in another country. Do you not suppose that that very fact had anything to do with why she's being teased? Do you take into consideration at all that you are in a country and culture are very different from our own? Or, perhaps, that she maybe let slip how she's really already done with school and this was just for fun and how her mom is an advocate for women in computing, and that maybe you've not given them enough credit for doing a little internet research on who YOU are? Certainly, she should be proud of her accomplishments and be able to toot her own horn, but what you toot and how you toot it are important whether you're male or female 16 or 60. Did you teach her any humility?

I'm a 48 year old female systems engineer. My dad taught me binary, octal and how to count data packets when I was 8. I took programming starting in 7th grade. I have worked in male dominated environments most of my career, and I can tell you that any negative experiences I've had in all those years have had to do with how I communicated with my peers and higher ups. I've worked with true rocket scientists and computing rock stars and people that were completely clueless. In all, there are some great people and there are some a$$hats. It's the way of the world in ANY field and it's how you deal with them that counts.

I can tell you that the earmark of the women worth their salt in IT is that they don't give up. They don't quit after one class. They don't assume that everyone is like this everywhere. Most importantly, they don't cry and whine and have a blog post written about how it was with this one class and that now they're done. They go back to those boys/men and kick their asses playing the games they all want to write. With humility, of course.

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Unless I am reading this wrong, the problem class was taken here in the States before graduation. 

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I feel for you, and your daughter, I really do. And I don't want the way you wrote about the subject to overshadow the actual problem. But like Senorgravy, I had to bite down my frustration over your constant self boasting and your dedrigration of the teacher/curriculum just to get to the heart of the post. The way you wrote this letter enables the argument to quickly become about You and the Teacher, not about being bullied in class. I would expect better out of a journalist. 

On the subject: It is never ok for someone to be bullied in class, but it's also not reasonable to expect it to never hapen. She should not have to suck it up, and deal with it. But the reality is that sometimes, that's exactly what you have to do. There isn't always a easy answer. And often, getting a Authoritive figure involved makes things worse or the individual.

I think bringing it up to the Teacher after the fact is a great way to help to prevent it to hapening to another student. But in the mean time, try to equip your daughter with the confidence, and the ability to stand up to bullies. She shouldn't have to... but she will need to. 

Often, two wrongs don't make a right. However, when it comes to bullies, it's often best to give back what you get. Don't let them get the best of you. 

You have a few ways of dealing with it on your own.

1. Ignore it: Usually the best thing to do at first. Sometimes they're just looking to get a rise out of you, and having non-reaction puts them off balance. And in turn,they feel embarased for failing to land the insult. 

2. Verbal Comebacks: Even if she's not good at thinking on her feet, bullies usually stick to the same subject. It's not hard to predict what the likely insults will be, and have a prepared response. i.e. "Why are you doing (insert "manly" thing here), you should Get back in the kitchen"  Response: "If REAL men were doing (insert "manly" thing here), I wouldn't have to."  

There are two outcomes from here. Either (and most likely in the cases I've seen) the bully will respect that you can hold your own and any furth "bullying" will actually turn into a good nature tit-for-tat. Suprissingly, I've actually seen good relationships stem from this kind of interaction. And if the tit-for-tat crosses the line, and the bullied person calls them out on it, the former bully actually apologizes. 

But there is a chance that standing up for yourself will actualy spur them to keep trying until they "get you."

3. Pranks: Sometimes Actions speak louder than words. If you're not able to stand up to them face-to-face, look to your strengths. Your daughter is a tech wiz. It wouldn't be hard to tamper with the bully's station. You could do something small, like switch his desktop theme to all Bronies stuff, to photoshoping pics of him and one of his budies in comprimising positions and set it as his budies profile pic on his phone. 

 

Let me reitereate, no one should have to put up with bullying, but the reality is that it can't always be prevented. And in those cases, you need to be equiped with the confidence, and skill, to deal with it. 

 

 

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Hmm.. I have a lot of thoughts here. Are these kind of habits really ignorant of people? Yes. Is this an example of extreme misogyny in culture? Absolutely. Is it the teacher's fault? Ehhhhh.... you lost me.

Couple of points. Obviously straight off the bat, you and your child are overachievers (or at the VERY least, WELL above the bar set by nearly any high school I know.). Just being honest here, I haven't heard of anyone else out there except for the 'top of the class, dean's list' kind of students that have this kind of backing and such. While it's laudable, it's also realistic to be aware of this fact. If you're in the upper 1%, maybe don't make large of it, but know you are.

MOST of the kids in public high schools don't have that. At least none I knew growing up. Right off the bat questioning VB as a language choice? (because you were, regardless of the language used).... VB is a simple, basic programming language. It's meant to be. It's a perfect start for coding, which is what most high school students are doing. STARTING coding. Most of them haven't coded or assisted writing stuff about linux. Most don't go to Drupalcon. etc, etc... Are we getting the picture yet?

I'm sorry, but you come off as a little entitled. Maybe not intending to, but you sort of do, due to the fact that you obviously expect the one on one and teacher interaction that just doesn't exist in our public school system.

Now that said, the actual encounters and situation? Deplorable. It's absolutely unreasonable that this is the mood and culture in programming, especially in a classroom. However, two points. Last I checked, just about every high school has issues with misogyny, programming or not. Kids are just becoming adults, dealing with hormones for the first time. This happens. It's not a GOOD thing, and yes it can be worked with. But be aware it's not just this class, nor these kids.  That's something probably every school administrator/teacher/employee could tell you.

Second, again, don't completely blame the teacher. As with the article's other comments, and with my own experience of having a brother TEACHING high school level students, let me tell you outright, you don't get to pick your students. First off, you don't have TIME between teaching upwards of 7 or 8 classes of 15-30 a day sometimes, different groups every week usually, with a completely new set every year, to take every student under your wing like you might like. The absolute best you might hope for is to grab a couple of kids with extremely obvious talent and give them a shove in the right direction. And even that's pushing it. And even then, you're not talking about all the paperwork, coursework, continuing education YOU have to do as a teacher, etc, and then god forbid having a life of your own outside school...  Add to that, remember that as far as coursework is concerned, certain standards are in place statewide usually.  I'm not sure what the school in question's requirements are, but my personal experience is that the school board doesn't move fast enough and is usually 10-15 years or more behind technology when it comes to setting new standards for technology courses.  I've personally tried to work with a school regarding helping one of their teachers get and institute licensing for different OS'es and dev kits while working as a distributor salesperson, and I know firsthand how hard it is to get schools to pull the trigger on an expensive program like that.  VB may have been the best the man had to work with, and isn't bad as basic instruction and understanding of coding goes.

I'm not saying this situation is okay. I AM however saying that you need to be aware, public high school is NOT some private school. It's not Harvard or Yale. It's public high school. If you don't like that culture, you might be best looking into private schools, since if you can afford to travel to several cons per year, you can probably afford it. 

Once again, deplorable incident, but as a concerned mother, you're directing your anger and disappointment the wrong way. Try working with some of the organizations for combating misogyny in our culture. When we resolve that situation, a lot of what you're concerned about will cease to be an issue.  As well, there are other choices for schools that your daughter may attend that would engage her interest and yet avoid some of these issues, preferably that have higher standards of student conduct, and that also have the one on one teacher connection that you seem to expect.  Sadly, public school still follows the 'no student left behind' mentality in some respects, and is catering to children that would appear to be well behind your daughter's level of knowledge in the field.

 While I applaud your obvious concern and interest in your daughter's educational career, I think some of this may be a bit of a misdirected action to it.  Overall, I don't think you understand the position this teacher may have been in, or maybe I don't have all the details and there was more to this case.  

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Hi there!
I've read your mom's blog about your experience in a high school programming class. I'm really sorry to hear that it wasn't a positive experience. But I don't think you should let one class determine your interests. If you do, you will be giving rude and unenlightened individuals too much power over your life. It's not possible to get through life by avoiding the unpleasant things. You know this already. You have to tackle to unpleasantry head on and put it in its place. Hold on to your own right to decide what you want to study or learn about. Don't give the right to decide your life's work away to faceless people whose names you won't even remember 10 years from now. It makes no sense to let small thinkers steer your future.

Discrimination is a complicated issue. It's deeply engraved in the human psyche to categorize, thus to make judgements based on such categorization became second nature - in other words, stereotyping. There is no simple way to overcome the barriers of stereotypes made by insecure individuals. I think the first step is to identify and overcome ones own stereotypes - even if you have anecdotal evidence that suggests a stereotype may be sometimes true. After you have unraveled yourself from the entanglement of your own categorical opinions, you will realize that women aren't the only ones to face barriers of discrimination based on stereotype. Understanding that you aren't alone in the challenges you face will give you strength. You need this strength. You will face stereotypical discrimination again - no matter what you decide upon for your future. Use the experience of your programming class as fuel to learn how to not get sucked into the negativity of others. You can (and I think you will) rise above.

Your mom mentioned that you are doing high school in India during your gap year. Hopefully you will use this experience to understand that different cultures are at different points in the stereotype continuum in terms of gender or racial or sexual stereotypes. It is a continuum. There are places more advanced and more behind when it comes to what stereotypes are present and how they contribute to the reality of a society or culture. You can use this to understand that things can get better, that things take time to change, and that you can go to a place ahead or behind on the continuum as compared to where you grew up for new and different experiences.

Take care and good luck with whatever you decide to do next!
Marissa 

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I'm glad you're taking part in the WAIC to get ideas about what can be done to improve the CompSci experience for girls and women alike.

I believe there has to be a better environment for everyone in CompSci.  You can't stop people bullying - that happens in real life as much as it happens in school.  The only thing any of us can do is stand up to the bullies.  

What we can do is push for better policies and procedures in schools to deal with harassment in all its forms.  We can also push for sponsorhip of better facilities in schools or better after-school events or school programmes with anti-harassment policies in place which demonstrate the lack of tolerance of this behaviour.

I have no idea how old your child' teacher was, what the demographic of the school's intake was or what policies the school had in place to deal with harassment.  I am sure that, as another poster said, a lot of teaching in high school (or secondary level ed, in the UK)  is about crowd management, keeping the kids in school and keeping them from killing each other.

VB would not be to my first choice, but BASIC is the beginner's all purpose symbolic instruction code and I would perhaps have chosen a more standardised BASIC than VB.  One thing VB does provide is an introuction to the MS development environment on which further courses in ASP may rely.  It's also easier for a non-geek 12 year old to point and click to build a dialog box than have to code it from scratch.

Perhaps we need to make sure educators have access to, awareness of and training in alternatives? 

 

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I am truly sorry to hear that your daughter went through this.  I am one of the biggest "Geekettes" that I know, and I am a Cisco Networking major.  There are maybe 5 other women on the networking side of the program, but quite a few on the programming side.  I don't know what it's like on the programming side; I've taken a couple of programming classes, but only as a part of my major.  On the networking side at my school, however, my female classmates and I are something of a commodity, and are looked at in awe in a way.  As often as gender discrimination happens in many fields, this one included, it doesn't happen everywhere, and I am lucky to attend a school that doesn't have that.  One of the reasons I chose this school is because my mom went through the computer science program there, and I got to go to some classes with her (she is now deceased).  The coolest thing?  One of her professors is now one of mine, and he remembers both her and myself from nearly 20 years ago, and pushes me harder than he does most, which is fine....I often need a swift kick in the rear.

 

My point is, keep your head up darlin'.  You hit a group of bigoted, closed minded boys, but not every one of them is like that.

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I'm a male, retired corporate computer trainer and former help-desk manager.  I also spent time in law enforcement.  I'm pleased to see the amount of support for the author's daughter, the controversy about Visual Basic as an introductory learning tool and the reports that it gets better after high school.  I'm troubled by the suggestions that the lone girl in class, a zealous computer programmer, should respond cockily to the lousy/scary comments and attitude of the brogrammers.  I could imagine a TV character played by Ali Larter or Jennifer Garner, with advanced knowledge of Krav Maga, Kung Fu and Jiu Jitsu, as well as serious programming skills, who would embarrass harrassing male classmates, knock down individual, then groups of oppressors, then reorganize some computer system for use in the school.  But in real life, adolescent boys can be real a$$-holes, can be aggressive, and young women have committed suicide when faced with their crap, either face to face or online.  So mom, stay involved, start programs, some described in these emails, that promote girls participation in programming. Continue to be a role model for your daughter.  All women who experience BS at the hands of boys and men cannot be expected to become Catwoman or Gloria Steinem.  Programs like Challenge Day are astonishing at bringing abusive people around to generosity and kindness. I feel the Incredible Hulks lurking within several of the respondents here, but the fantasy to rise up to challenge jerks can involve physical danger for the lone female, advised to tough it out, refuse help from adults, and "man up!"  And remember, this High School thing abruptly ends at graduation.

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I am a young female, and this post offended me. Sometimes it seems like people like you think you are helping, but you are actually hurting. I am into programming myself, and it is a very male dominated field still. That fact is not going to change overnight, so women in the field need to adapt (in addition to the males, but mostly the females because we may not admit it, but we are coming into their territory and trying to tell them to play by our rules). We need to get used to the fact that we are for the foreseeable future going to be the minorities, but instead of letting that defeat us we need to rise above it and show the world what we can accomplish. It seemed like you blame the teacher for a lot of things that you as a parent should be responsible for. Why weren't you guiding your daughter through the difficulties she was having with the class? Why are you lecturing the teacher, who probably only has an hour for 20-30 students, about paying attention to each individual student when YOU should be the one paying attention to your daughter? Additionally, it is a high school course, so I am not sure what language you would prefer being taught, but with time and budget restraints it is not a reasonable expectation. Mostly, I am upset with you as a parent because your daughter will probably always be an outsider because she is so advanced, and it seems as though you are virtually doing nothing but blaming others to help her cope with that. As a female in a male dominated filed she will always be faced with discrimination, but she can either grow from it or become defeated. I am young in a male dominated field around mostly older men, who do not like change and are not accepting of women, but I have proven myself, and many have grown to accept me. We are in a difficult period of time, and the way to make a difference is to take a stand and admit flaws and focus on strength and not blame other. The world is not fair. In the "real world" as so many teachers and professors call it there is no one there to hold your hand. There is no one at your job making sure your feelings aren't hurt. I know there are laws against discrimination, and they are there to help, but they usually are not used properly, so they lose value. Women who cannot adapt in tough situations hurt the reputation of other women everywhere which is why we are labeled whiney and not as good as our male counter parts. Your daughter should have been taught to stand up for herself. Many people came up with witty comebacks, and personally I think that she might have earned some of their respect with a good comeback. On the other hand, I know it is hard in high school because the comments just get harsher and harsher. High school is a hard time for everyone, but in this world of “everyone gets a trophy” parents set an unrealistic expectation of the world for their children. Children need to be taught to stand on their own feet, and that life isn’t fair, and you may be treated different, and you should have to work hard to get that trophy because nothing is handed to you. The women making the difference are not the ones that have others fight their battle, but the ones who stand up for themselves. I have repeated my point several times because I think that it is very important for all children not just females that they learn to handle situations and adapt (I may not have used those words, but the idea is there). Also your post seemed to indicate the she was having trouble because she was “female” not because she was a “person.” We as a society need to start thinking of ourselves as people first, and then adding additional descriptors after in the context of the situation. She may have had difficulties because she is a socially inept person or an advanced person or a sheltered person and maybe realistically it had nothing to do with her being a female person. We are all just people and we are each responsible for dealing with situations and adapting to the world, and helping the world grow to adapt to us, but not expecting it to.

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I agree with each word.

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I think you hit more than one important point on the head.  Yes, the tech field have been predominantly male for pretty much their entire existance.  And as such, EVERYONE needs to adjust to changes.  Do you go over to your friend's house and demand they organize their books alphabetically, when they prefer to organize by genre?  No, you respect that you are coming into someone else's environment, and adjust how YOU are to fit.  And a lot of women seem to want to walk into male predominant areas and just expect the men to suddenly change for them.  That's not going to happen.  Not easily, and not without resistance.  With equality in opportunity, also comes equality in treatment.  And like it or not, men don't treat each other the same way that they traditionally treated women.  If you want equality, realize you give up the privledged position women traditionally held in a chivalrous, and sexist, society.  So it's up to women to deal with men on the same level they deal with each other, till the men are able to adjust and everyone find a level where they are all comfortable.  And you are dead on, when we start thinking of ourselves as "women" or "men" first, we fail to realize we are human first, and like it or not, everyone else is too.  When someone jumps to the conclusion that it's all about sexism, that means they problably are a little bit sexist themselves, and are just projecting onto others.

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Let us stipulate that the teacher is responsible for the tenor of his students' interactions. (I am not entirely convinced this is so, but this seems to be the common feeling these days.) If this is the case, then let us walk back this graf --

I consulted with friends — female developers — and talked to my daughter about how to handle the situation in class. I suggested that she talk to you. I offered to talk to you. I offered to come talk to the class. I offered to send one of my male friends, perhaps a well-known local programmer, to go talk to the class. Finally, my daughter decided to plow through, finish the class, and avoid all her classmates.

In other words -- nobody, neither you, your daughter, nor the school counselor (whom she apparently discussed this situation with, per bullet 6) -- spoke to the instructor about this situation that was so deeply troubling to your daughter. And the given reason was that it would have made the situation worse had you done so (presumably the same for the daughter).

So why do we think that bullet points 5-7 would change anything if your daughter is unwilling to come forward? Would the teacher approaching her make any difference at all?

I find it irrational and offensive that you blame the teacher ("you, sir, created a horrible [first impression] for girls in computer programming") for a situation of which he had no knowledge -- unless the abuse was happening in front of him and he failed to stop it on the spot. Yet, tellingly, you never make that claim.

Are teachers supposed to be mind readers? Because that is the standard this rant holds the teacher to, and it is frankly absurd.

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This response is not to talk about what happened to your daughter. What happened to her is wrong and this post has nothing to do with her, or her situation. I already made a response post about that, TLDR version; “Bullying is not ok.” Which brings me to this post…

I think you need to take some time and re-read your letter. You, Mam, bullied that teacher. You insulted him, his curriculum, and quite honestly, were really mean. You probably saw your poking fun of his curriculum and the general insults you flew his way as humorous, or snarky. And you know what? That how bullies see their actions as well. Those boys? They thought it was “funny” to tell your daughter to get in the kitchen.

Here’s some examples of what you wrote. I added the bold font (to point out where you were bulling), you added the italics.

*I'm not writing to complain about your choice of programming languages (Visual Basic? Seriously??) or about the A my daughter earned in your class. And, actually, my daughter had no specific complaints about you as a teacher. I, on the other hand, have plenty of feedback for you.

*And when the lessons started (Visual Basic? Seriously??), my daughter flew through the assignments.

*Sadly, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and you, sir, created a horrible one for girls in computer programming.

*What exactly were you doing when you were supposed to be supervising the class and teaching our future programmers?

*After all, you didn't mean to create a brogrammer-to-be environment, did you?

*Don't be boring and out-of-date. Visual Basic? Seriously?? Yes, I know I said I'm not writing to complain about your choice of programming languages (links to article titled: “Programming Languages That Aren’t Worth Your Time”), even though I'm still scratching my head on this one. Without touching your minuscule class budget, you can offer a range of instruction with real-world applications Have you considered showing kids how to develop a phone app? Program a Raspberry Pi? Create a computer game? Build a website? Good grief, man — how were you even able to make programming boring?

*Pay attention. I don't know what you were doing during class, but you weren't paying attention… .  Don't believe me? That's because you aren't paying attention.

 

What gets me the most, is how you felt it necessary to keep repeating the “Visual Basic? Seriously??”. Whether or not that should be the introductory programing language in the class (and others have made cases for it, in the comments), there is no need to be so insulting. Is it really any different than “JC Penny? Seriously?? You’re wearing THOSE shoes to the dance?? “ <snicker to other Mean Girls>

 

Your daughter went through a horrible experience, and you have a right to be upset, but you bullied that teacher, just like those boys did to your daughter.

 

 

 

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Yes, this is how not so clever moms "defend" their children.

+1 for that.

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And yet you, in your first response to the original post, suggested for her child to bully in return!  And FYI, telling an adult how they are wrong and making coherent arguments is a little different than a child bullying a child.

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In my first post, I suggested that a victim of a bully should ignore it, or stand up for themselves. I did not say that the mother of the victim should bully the teacher who as far as we knew (up until update 2) had no prior knowledge of the bullying. 

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I will first start off by saying that I understand the frustration your daughter felt.  I had the same thing growing up.  I was picked on constantly because of a genetic pre-disposition that I could not fight.  But there are a few things in your letter that left a sour taste in my mouth.  Things that I have to comment on.  Firstly, your entire tone, as mentioned by many other commentors, was very confrontational.  You basically were getting in their face and telling them how to do their job, in not so many words.  And this kind of attitude wears down teachers, as they get it from probably half the parents in their classes.  Ask yourself, how many students does each teacher have?  How many parents is that?  How much ABUSE is that the TEACHER is getting?  Secondly, as another commentor said, the curriculum is defined by the school board.  If you feel it needs work, then get on the school board and change it.  Or write them.  Berrating a teacher for that is like yelling at the mailman because your pay cheque isn't in the mail yet, or yelling at a cashier because a product is defective.  It's not their fault, so you venting on them does absolutely nothing to solve the problem, and just gives someone else a bad day.  Congratulations on making someone elses day bad.

Some of the questions you asked the teacher could also have been asked of your daughter.  You asked, where was the teacher when the bullying was going on, did you ask your daughter?  I have a thought on where they were.  How many people are IN this class your daughter was in?  If it is anything like most schools in the US/Canada, probably 30+.  And if the teacher is helping one student, they can't watch all of them at the same time.  Teachers are being overworked, and stretched more and more, and expecting them to notice every little thing is insane.

Now, let's go over your points.  Recruit students?  Really?  On top of doing their regular classload, you expect them to look for more?  I was under the impression it is up to the parents to help their kids with things liike course selection.  You know, parent their kids.  Setting the tone is a good idea, but jumping into a lecture on sexism isn't the answer.  More on why later.  An anti-harassment policy is a good idea, but chances are the school already has one.  If they don't, ask them why not?  But also realize, peer pressure will cause most kids to NOT tell.  After all, were you ever witness to someone being ridiculed for being a tattle-tale when YOU were a kid?  The current generation is even more cruel about that, even in light of courageous whistle blowers like Manning and Snowden.  Don't be out of date is not always possible.  Take a look at the equipment most schools have.  They can't afford to be up to date.  They don't have huge budgets.  And since most people on the school boards aren't technically savvy, they won't know the best and cheapest ways to BE up to date.  Perhaps volunteering for them in that regard might help them along a lot.  Instead of presenting problems, how about offering solutions to them.  YOU can be a solution, or you can keep yelling the problem.  Pay attention.  Oi, this goes back to the over-crowded classes.  You try keeping an eye on 30+ kids while still trying to help them learn and catch EVERYTHING that they do.  Heck, bullying has even gone high tech, with cyber bullying.  Teachers can't always catch that.  Checking in with students isn't all that easy too, again, that's a LOT of students, and taking time from teaching just to talk to them isn't going to get that curriculum taught any easier.  This also goes with following up.  I can see you've never been a teacher before.  Your litle rant about how you "get it" shows just how little you actually get.  You don't get it.  You just see a problem and want it fixed.  Now, let's look at things from the OTHER side.

First off, you say you enrolled your daughter in this programming class in HIGH SCHOOL?!  If you saw your daughter was this gifted with computers, why didn't you do it a HELL of a lot sooner.  By high school I could program circles around your daughter by the sounds of it.  I was taking programming in ELEMENTARY school.  Not just school classes, but summer programs, after school programs, and my own personal learning.  Despite all the things my mother did wrong with me, she did get that one VERY right.  Sure, I started programming on Apple //e's and a Vic-20, and yes, it WAS in BASIC.  Not even visual.  I didn't even SEE that till college, and by then I was into C, and a dozen other languages.  You are responsible for your child getting a proper education.  Not the teacher.  Not the school board.  If you think your daughter needs special teaching beyond what the school can provide, YOU are responsible for getting it.  No one else.

Next we come to the bullies themselves.  Let's look at them for a minute.  I am betting it wasn't the entire class doing it.  Probably less than half, if that.  And if you look at that half, I am willing to bet most are like your daughter, from a single parent family.  I know what this is like.  As there is pretty much a guarantee that the single parent is a mother (since 84% of all single parents with custody are mothers) then we know there is a very high chance that these boys don't have a father in their life.  Which means no positive male role model.  Which means they, like many out there, do not know how to relate to people propely because their mother is working hard just to keep a roof and food for them.  She is doing all she can, but she can't be a father for them.  So they turn to their xBox.  They turn to their Playstation.  They turn to the internet.  And they find other kids like them.  They find idiotic jokes that are all over the place.  They don't understand a family structure, and they are rebelling.  They make stupid comments.  They see your daughter, obviously smart, obviously capable.  Probably even better at programming than they are.  You DID say she started helping other students.  They see this better programmer and feel insecure.  But like many kids of single mothers, they don't know how to act on this properly, so they lash out.  And they lash out with the main difference between her and them: gender.  Now are they being sexist, and trying to hold your daughter back because she's a girl?  No.  They are being immature idiots.  The comments themselves may BE sexist, but the intention behind them isn't.  They are a bunch of maladjusted boys who can't handle their own feelings properly because they never learned.

Now on to what you could have done differently.  You realize this was a wonderful opportunity for a life lesson that you just let pass by you because you were more worried about assigning blame then you were about actually helping your daughter.  You could have sat her down and said that some people are jealous and rude because they aren't as good as her at some things.  And if she quits, she actually lets them win, because then they feel better at not having one more person better than them around.  She could do as some people suggested, turn it around and learn to confront them with her own quips back, or maybe even try a little psychology, saying "you seem frustrated, are you having a problem with this assignment?  Maybe I can help?"  At this point the kid can admit that they are feeling insecure, and maybe even get some help.  Maybe she can just dismiss it with "Is that the best you've got? I've heard better"

There is also another lesson you missed.  And this one is a HUGE lesson.  Life isn't going to be handed to her.  She will have to work and fight for things she wants.  And if she backs down at all adversity, then she's never going to succeed.  ESPECIALLY in the programming field.  This may be a huge field, but with so many people out there, only those TRULY dedicated to it will succeed.  This goes for a lot of things in life.  If you aren't willing to pick yourself up and just face the bullying, face the strife, then you really aren't that in love with that field.  Someone truly dedicated to it wouldn't let anything stop them.  Perhaps you just need to ask your daughter, what DOES she want to do.  If she wants to be a programmer, she's going to have to stick with it a lot more then that.  And she's already pretty far behind those that are dedicated to it.

That's enough on this rant.  But I do want to leave you with one final thought.  Sexism isn't always the cause, just because there is a male and a female involved.  Sometimes it's just simple teenage idiocy.  The glass ceiling has been broken, it was over a decade ago.  The only thing holding anyone back now is themselves.

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This is a mantra made necessary in the Ruby community.  I'm not really a Rubyist, but I spend a lot of time with people who are and I do have to say that the attitude of collaboration and acceptance in the web development community while probably not wholly attributed to the Matz is Nice mentality most certainly is a good way to think.

To anyone who thinks that buckling to harassment is equal to a working in the programming field take a moment to consider the difference between harassment and harsh criticism.  I wasn't always a developer.  For most of my working life I was a brick mason.  I have no formal training outside of a computer technology class I took in High School where much of the curriculum was GWBASIC and CoBOL.  Languages that, honestly, were dead when we were taught them.  I didn't get into a career in development until 7 years ago when I happened into an interview with a defense contractor and got a job working as a C# developer.

I knew no C#, but the environment I worked in was an encouraging one.  If I ever felt the desire to quit it was usually out of frustration with myself and not the environment and it was, usually, a short-lived emotion.  After I left that job I went to work for a local media company as their principle developer doing front-end and back end development for all of their sites.

The job was horrible, the owners demanding and unreasonable.  Often my office mate and I would discuss what we were doing wrong.  The owners had us stifled to the point that we questioned ourselves.  It wasn't criticism, usually, we were often berated on things that were neither a part of our job nor were they in any specs we were given.  This is the place I'd really like someone to think about when they consider this situation.  When you are in the position where you're doing your job to the best of your ability but you're treated as though you simply aren't worth what you're being paid, it's easy to want to give up.  I often thought about how easy it would be to go back to working in the sun.  The wall never complained to me, everything was always drawn out so it was easy to follow.  When I solved a problem nobody complained about the undefined thing that wasn't done the way they conceived it without indicaiton.

I wanted to quit and I would consider myself very tolerant, diligent and driven.  Had I not had some very good friends in a very good position in the industry I might have quit and not found a way out.  It was the day that I was sent an email for not following up with a client who a) had no money, b) clearly was looking for a service we didn't provide and c) was not in my baileywick because I am not in sales that I finally sent my resignation in.  I sent it in with no plan and contacted anybody I knew about working elsewhere.

I take criticism well.  I look at what someone is saying very objectively and consider how I can improve what I've done.  Every client I have now that I have gone freelance has very good things to say about me.  The CTO for one start up I do work for considers me the best developer he knows.  I form good relationships with people around me.  I say all of this to clarify that I'm well adjusted and that the fast-pace of the field and the critical nature of bugs and revisions does not bother me;  I know what the job is, it doesn't phase me.

No, I say all this because for that one year I nearly gave it all up because someone was abrasive and, frankly, abusive.  The difference between me and the author's daughter is that I had the option to quit and go elsewhere, I had that power.  Consider where you were in High School, would you have dropped a class because of this?  Likely not.  The fact that she continued the class to completion demonstrates far more tenacity and determination than the average developer possesses.  I have worked with far too many who give up for phone it in when a task is too difficult or who take every bug report as though they were blows from a blunt object.

My point is this: you cannot judge the author's daughter based on the author, nor the actions of the daughter given the harassment based solely on your experience in the working world.  If you have the skills, you have the power.  If your job is a challenge because work is hard, then that's fine.  Work is hard.  But when the work is hard and the environment is abusive, to say, "Get over it, that's life" is callous and short-sigthed.  There is a ton of work out there.  If you're working in that place and you can solve problems, leave.

Don't treat someone as less of a person because they couldn't take someone treating them as less of a person.

Matz is nice...  So be nice.

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 . . .  had **I** been the teacher, it would have been Python, and likely on Linux.   Because when teaching the basics, allowing sloppy habits or coding will stick, which is why I steer beginners away from ANY "Visual $foo" on Windows. . .

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I read with great interest this blog post. I am female, have two daughters, and have worked in both technical and non-technical settings. Oh, and I survived engineering curriculum in the early 90's. I also went to high school in the midwest and remember helping my male "colleagues" with their assignments too. However my teacher (Mr White) noticed that, and mentioned it to my parents, and offered to write me a letter of recommendation for college. I'm sorry this happened to your daughter. Maybe back then boys were raised better (the old fogey response, I guess)...What did the high school teacher respond with? 

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I'd even take VBA (I'm adept with that plus Python and PHP). However I was doing program reviews in public schools.

In one class they were teaching them about the MS Office suite - which btw is used in 99.999% of the corporate world today. They were doing a payroll spreadsheet and they had to consult a cheat sheet to calculcate the withholding tax.

So I asked the teacher if there was any intention at all to teach them to use VBA or even advanced formulas in Excel. The teacher had the nerve to say and I'll paraphrase "But that's computer programming and you need a lot of advanced math for that.".

So on my report I echoed her comment and wrote my rebuttal. I explained that simple 1st year Algebra or even pre-Algebra was adequate and that an understanding of base 2, 8 and 16 numbering systems should also be included.

That's what is wrong with public education. We've set the bar SO low that kids will never learn what they need to get things done.

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I never really took Rate My Professors.com seriously, until I ran across a particular comment recently. The writer stated that I was a great person but..."too smart for her own good" and that I came across as valuing research more than teaching. The class was biomedical engineering for BME majors. The feedback overall appeared to suggest that I was less nurturing than what was expected of me. To me, the comment smacks of sexism. I decided to post a response not to the author of the comment, but to any female scientist/ engineer who may run across it, to encourage them to keep beeing "too smart" and good at it when they hear similar comments. I included a link to your blog post. Thank you for posting this.

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I have taught many classes, albeit at the college level, with only one woman or girl in the class.  In some ways, it is easy to ignore the one girl.  She's not in the majority in anything gender-related, and it's easy to assume she's gender-typical.  But in many ways, it's hard to ignore her, especially if she's gender typical and gives those positive responses (facial expressions, nods, small interjections one-on-one).  Yeah, I think that the teacher *should* have been aware if the one girl in the class was withdrawn when she hadn't been.  It's part of our job, darn it!  (And a part for which we are totally not trained, at least for most college profs.)

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I believe your fundamental flaw, was that you did not build your daughter tough enough. Schools are full of poor teachers and shitty kids who love nothing more than to be assholes to other kids. People who cannot treat other people properly, are a product of poor parenting. 

I know that the world isn't all PC and lollipops and rainbows. No matter how much we'd like our kids to live in a world like that, it's not going to happen. There's just too many people who don't care or are too lazy to affect change.

I'm a full-time father of three children. Two of which are girls. Who. if I've done my job correctly. will turn out as strong young women, who have confidence in themselves and their abilities. They will stand up for themselves and what they want without fear. The trick is to get them to realize it isn't about what they deserve or what's fair. I started all my children early with the fact that, you follow your passion no matter what. Anyone who wants to spew hate or doubt on you isn't really a friend, or anyone who's opinion will matter later in life. You're probably going to outrun 75% if not 90% of your class in terms of later success. The world is full of jerks and assholes. Ignore them and continue to do what you love. Is it right? Absolutely not. Is it fair? Not even close. Ignore the bullshit and go after what you want. If you have drive, a little talent, and a bit of luck, you're going to succeed no matter what. They believe in themselves, because I believe in them. I can't change other people. But in building stronger children I can ensure that my kids will be minimally bothered by it.   

I view the tech game as a matter of equals. Your equal, or your better, wouldn't treat people horribly. Shitty techs, tend to be insecure assholes.  

I'm a highly technical person, as is my girlfriend, and I've got a job at one of the premier technology companies in the world, and she works right along side me. I work with a lot of fantastic women techs. Gender doesn't matter. Ability does. I grew up with assholes like that, as did she. Unfortunately for them, I was taller than them and I could lift more weight. She, kept on "even though I heard all the same stuff in my classes, I didn't let it bother me. I knew what I was going to do, and they couldn't stop me from doing that. I knew that I was going to end up going farther than most of them. And I did." 

Moral of the story, build your kids strong enough that other's can't tear them down.

 

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I'm sorry, but it's easy for Mom Author to point the finger when there's a responsibility she completely overlooked. As the PARENT, it's her job to prepare her children for the world they face. Parents should be looking at what their kids are passionate about and finding the best ways to prepare them. And quite frankly, you're a female programmer who's invested countless hours in teaching your daughter programming and immersing her in the industry...but you haven't been teaching her about the threats she faces and the hurdles she will have to overcome as a female in a male-dominated industry? Shame on you as a mother. How dare you blame a teacher for your failure.

I was raised by (fortunately for me) two parents who cared deeply about me learning to fend for myself. My dad recognized early on that his daughters were showing interest in tech careers, and he sat us both down to say, "You are going into a world where you will encounter men who think you don't belong there, you're not good enough, or you shouldn't be working at all. You'll also come into contact with men who will treat you the way they want their wives, sisters, and daughters to be treated at work. Trust those men, and make friends with them. Ignore the others, and STAND UP FOR YOURSELF."

Don't teach your children to roll over—girl or boy. Every human has the right to say, "Don't take that condescending tone with me. I understand how the system works. What I'm telling you is that ____ is not permissible under corporate standards <or> we're not doing that because _____ shows it's the worst possible route." Teach your children to act diplomatically in public and to fight like bulldogs when necessary. Show respect where deserved, and command respect when earned. 

Parents, take responsibility. NOW. It is never too soon, but it will soon be too late.

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I teach computer science (i.e. "programming") at a large suburban high school, have been for 8 years.  I was a programmer and IT manager in industry for 20+ years prior to teaching.   I teach one class of beginning computer science and one class of AP Computer Science.  Both classes are full, 36 students each.  My beginning CS class has 8 girls,  my AP class has 9 girls.  Sadly, my percentage of females (about 1/4) is way higher than average.  Every year I turn students away since there are only 36 machines in my lab; hopefully someday I can recruit enough to fill 2 sections of each (minimum class size is 28).  My beginning class loosely follows the Exploring Computer Science curriculum, and my AP class of course follows the rigidly defined AP curriculum.

This was a very difficult article for me to read for several reasons.  First and foremost, the teacher really blew it.  He needs to establish from day one an atmosphere of respect and professional courtesy in the classroom and lay out severe repercussions for violations.  It is possible to have a fun, even hilarious environment without bullying, intimidation, or harrassment.  That being said, it is impossible to control 100% of student interactions with each other, and things do happen, especially when you are busy helping students at their workstations.  You can do what you can to nip it in the bud if the aggreived party comes to you, but sometimes kids insist on being stupid and picking on each other.   Still, if the kid went to the teacher, he should have jumped on it.  We CS teachers need to be seriously aware of inequities in the tech fields and be doing everything we can to nurture the next generation of (diverse) programmers.  Sounds like this guy fails at least a little bit in that regard.

A second problem I have, which made it a great effort to read the entire article, is the condescending, arrogant tone of the mom.   From her first "VB - Really?" to her 7 tips on how to teach CS, she came off as an overbearing, patronizing know it all.  The kind of parent teachers hope to avoid at all costs, since we know we can never make them happy, but they'll surely make us plenty unhappy.  I wonder what her interactions with the teacher were like?  Were they similar in tone to the article?  Did she put him on the defensive?  Try to tell him what to do?  Or did she say "My kid has this problem and said she talked to you and it's still happening and what can we do to come up with a solution?"   Her attitude damages her credibility and REALLY takes away from the core of her message, IMO.  

Finally, a word on VB as a starter language.  I taught it in my beginning class before they adopted the ExploringCS curriculum.  The kids LOVED IT!  Instant gratification - they made super fun applications with very little expertise.  It got them hooked on programming, and many students (including those who went on to study CS in college) have told me that it was the most fun class they ever had.  Sure, hard core coders look down their noses and hate it, but what are they doing in a beginning class anyway?  At the beginning level, you want to make it as fun as possible!  Get 'em hooked, then teach 'em the hard stuff.  My AP class is straight-up java, no code completion, debuggers, drag-and-drop GUI development or any of that stuff.  Those students know exactly what they are in for! In the beginning students need to be reeeeeled in to programming with some fun and goodness.  

A spoonful of sugar goes a long way, in both beginning programming languages or angry online missives.

 

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The author never makes the claim that the teacher knew or should have known (i.e. that the abuse occurred in front of the teacher but they did nothing about it). That is extremely telling.

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The more I read this the more I think the writer is completely full of herself. First she spends paragraphs bragging about her kid and stretching how accomplished she is (she has developers on her friend's list, really, like that tells us anything about her programming ability). And then it all turns out to be mostly irrelevant.

She was harassed in class and it made her not want to take another programming class. Her accomplishments or the sexist jokes you've received over 2 years ago have no bearing on this.

Then she expects the teacher to keep tabs on her emotions? The classroom does not revolve around your damn child. There are other things he has to pay attention to.

I'm no teacher, so forgive me if you think I'm out of place when it comes to telling you how to do your job.

But that's not going to actually stop me from telling you how to do your job.

And then she expects him to take time out of his classroom to champion her pet causes? The nerve of that woman. I mean it's one thing to expect a teacher to clamp down on bullying but to expect him to fight for your diversity cause on top of his regular job. If I was the teacher I'd tell you to get bent.

And then more grief for not paying attention to her kid all the time. As if she's the only thing he needs to pay attention to. How full of yourself can one person be. You honestly expect him to talk to the counselor about how every single one of his students is doing or is it only required for your special little snowflake?

Look, you don't have to tell me how hard your job is or how underpaid and overstressed you are as a high school teacher. I'm a single mother working in tech publishing — believe me, I get it.

No you don't. Unless you've actually been a high school teacher you can't act like you know how stressful it is or how hard it is. You just don't know.

It's really arrogant to assume this  like "look my life is stressful so therefore I know what it's like to have stress, so I'm qualified to talk about any demanding stressful job there is. After all there's no way it can be magnitudes different than what I go through".

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Darn quote bits stopped working.

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I've read all comments just to find your one, because I was sure there should be this kind of comment, at least because of probability theory. Somebody should be "against all". Ironically, your comment is most arrogant and stupid here.

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An article so poor it inspired me to sign up to a forum just to post a comment that doesn't happen often.

First off, do I feel for you and your daughter’s situation? Yes. Is Programming a sexist industry? Quite probably, I really don't know enough about it to form an opinion.

However the first piece of advice - "Recruit students to take your class." Do you really think that is a good idea?  This is a poor class. It put your daughter off programming for life. Why would you want to encourage more students to take it and suffer?  The teacher struggled to supervise the students as it was do you think a higher uptake would help that situation?

 

This appears to be simply a case of a poor teacher. That can happen in any subject and yes a poor teacher is a very bad thing. I am sure you want to vent your rage at the situation. I would be angry too.

However condescending advice that mostly says "Be a better teacher." is unlikely to improve the situation. I am sure no teacher actively wants to be poor and if asked all would agree that most of what you say is good practice. But in order to improve things it is necessary to find the underlying causes and address those. Has the teacher been forced to teach the one programming class in the school something they know little about and have little interest in? Are they constrained by an out of date syllabus which is rigorously enforced? Is there some kind of internal tension between the counsellors and the teachers meaning they don't talk to each other? Does the culture of the school mean that acknowledging a problem is seen as a sign of weakness? Is there some other reason they are performing poorly?

Perhaps you could offer to help now that your daughter has completed the class. "Dear Sir, My Daughter recently took your programming class. Although she passed she did not find it particularly stimulating. I happen to work in the industry and would be more than happy to speak to future classes about careers in IT or the most recent developments in the field if that would be of any help to you. etc.”

 

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Hi Rikki,

Your article strikes a strident note for me. I've a 10-year-old daughter who's more like an adult in girl's clothing, and an unashamed geek. (Can't think where she gets it from. *grin*)  Just as a for-instance, she badgered me - it didnt' take much, to be honest - to subscribe to New Scientist for her, and she's a leading light of the Young Astronomers group in our area. I could go on - oh my word, could I ever!

But she's also sensitive, as many kids of her age are.

At her primary school, she has received nothing but support and encouragement, but I fear the impact of secondary school next scholastic year, and of exposure to a bunch of testosterone-driven boys who will want to assert dominance, both gender dominance and in general. She is, and has the aptitude to be in future, exceptional, and I need to help ensure she achieves all she can. I'd appreciate any suggestions you have to help guide and mentor her through this tricky period and onwards.

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Bravo for your work in supporting women in tech. I have a 5th grade daughter who has loved science all her life but now we are worried that she is starting to lose interest, & I think it's because young girls aren't encouraged to study science & math in upper grades.

But I don't understand what point you're trying to make in your e-mail. If you are seriously interested in educating and enlightening this teacher about the issue of diversity in IT, and make constructive suggestions about things he can do to help, I don't think this e-mail accomplishes that. It sounds more like you think the guy is a jerk and you know he'll never change. That may be true, but if you're really interested in "working toward increasing diversity in IT," you should think more about what's the best way to make that point that will bring about the result you want. Further, your point that your "daughter learned why there are so few women in IT, and no amount of encouragement from [you] is ever going to change that." Really?? From one bad experience in one class?

On the other hand, the guy really is a jerk for allowing your daughter to be harassed and not doing anything about it. The boys' behavior and the teacher's response (or lack of) are absolutely unacceptable. But if those boys are bullying her in that class, they are most likely bullying other girls in other classes. I would bring that issue to the teacher's attention *immediately* and if he didn't do anything about it, I'd go to the principal and complain until they dealt with the situation.

I just think you might be more successful in getting your point across if you dealt with the two issues separately.

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Surely as a writer you can appreciate that some teacher could easily write this same angry article with the same passive-aggressive rhetoric (Saying "I'm not criticizing" then criticizing? Seriously??) about parents who know there is a problem and don't tell the people who might do something about it.

What I gather here is that your inaction was wisely "respecting her request", while his inaction was incompetence. Knowing when and how to get involved is a thorny problem (sorry, should I have put in a platitude about understanding your situation there?), but what exactly are you teaching your daughter by going to the internet to rant instead of pursuing actual solutions? You claim that this article is here to make the situation better, but is there any universe in which going to talk to the teacher (if only after your daughter graduated) and then writing about that would not be more productive?

This article does a disservice to the cause you are championing.

 

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I'm very sorry you and your daughter had to deal with this. I'm even more sorry that you've got the Tone Police in here telling you that you didn't have the right to expect your daughter to feel safe and not harassed at school, and that you're arrogant to be angry that her learning was impinged by the sexsim she encountered. They are wrong and bad people and I hope that statements of support outnumber the asshats. It's so exhausting that even mentioning harassment is enough to get you attacked. You and your daughter have my good thoughts and best wishes. I hope she finds much joy going forward, in programming or elsewhere.

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I have a four year old daughter and it concerns me that when I go to buy toys for her, the toys that are indicated as for "girls" are mostly dolls and the characters are teachers, nurses, moms, beauticians, and princesses. I am happy to see the occasional doctor, but the science experiment kits are all marketed to boys. The problem is with how we are socializing boys and girls to think of some careers as for men (science, engineering,  technology, and math), and other careers as for women (flight attendant, nurse, cheerleader, teacher, etc.), few of which actually make as much money.

The IT field is definitely male dominated, as with a few other industries like accounting, finance, or law enforcement. However, fortunately, things have changed. I don't see as much of a boys club, as some people allege. Programmers have to work with other job functions, including project managers, designers, business analysts, as well as clients, many of which are women. I have worked as a developer in a company of mostly women and I have had several female bosses. Harassment of any kind is not tolerated these days.  Women in any male dominated industry, unfortunately, will face sexism at some point in their careers, but that does not mean women should not consider pursuing a career in computer science.

While the author emphasizes sexism and harrassment, and I agree that there is that element, there are larger issues at play when it comes to why there are so few female programmers. As the author alludes to, it has more to do with what happens before women go into their chosen professions. 0.3% of young women go to college with computer science as their intended majors. We need to look at why that is.

To start, there is the persistent myth that there are male and female careers. This is something that children learn at very early ages. We need to break that.

Then, while I don't think all the blame can be attributed to schools, we need for schools to teach more than simple introductory courses to computers. With the increasing prevalence of computer technology, in this day, it is completely inexcusable. Every child should have the opportunity to learn how to program. If we changed this, more women will be better prepared to take computer classes at the college level.

Next, we need for teachers of introductory computer classes to not assume prior knowledge, as this tends to benefit mostly the boys, who are encouraged from their youth to pursue interests in technology.

Finally, we need for schools and teachers to actively promote gender diversity in the classroom. As I mentioned above, the boys will have to work with women even if most programmers end up being men. Diversity in of itself should be a goal for educational reasons. Teachers and schools ought to encourage girls to participate in technology-related clubs and other extracurricular activites.

Unfortunately, the reasons why girls are discouraged from pursuing careers in science and technology have to do with stereotypes and cultural perceptions of gender roles.

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I have a four year old daughter and it concerns me that when I go to buy toys for her, the toys that are indicated as for "girls" are mostly dolls and the characters are teachers, nurses, moms, beauticians, and princesses. I am happy to see the occasional doctor, but the science experiment kits are all marketed to boys. The problem is with how we are socializing boys and girls to think of some careers as for men (science, engineering,  technology, and math), and other careers as for women (flight attendant, nurse, cheerleader, teacher, etc.), few of which actually make as much money.

The IT field is definitely male dominated, as with a few other industries like accounting, finance, or law enforcement. However, fortunately, things have changed. I don't see as much of a boys club, as some people allege. Programmers have to work with other job functions, including project managers, designers, business analysts, as well as clients, many of which are women. I have worked as a developer in a company of mostly women and I have had several female bosses. Harassment of any kind is not tolerated these days.  Women in any male dominated industry, unfortunately, will face sexism, but that does not mean women should not consider pursuing a career in computer science.

While the author emphasizes sexism and harrassment, and I agree that there is that element, there are larger issues at play when it comes to why there are so few female programmers. As the author alludes to, it has more to do with what happens before women go into their chosen professions. 0.3% of young women go to college with computer science as their intended majors. We need to look at why that is.

To start, there is the persistent myth that there are male and female careers. This is something that children learn at very early ages. We need to break that.

Then, while I don't think all the blame can be attributed to schools, we need for schools to teach more than simple introductory courses to computers. With the increasing prevalence of computer technology, in this day, it is completely inexcusable. Every child should have the opportunity to learn how to program. If we changed this, more women will be better prepared to take computer classes at the college level.

Next, we need for teachers of introductory computer classes to not assume prior knowledge, as this tends to benefit mostly the boys, who are encouraged from their youth to pursue interests in technology.

Finally, we need for schools and teachers to actively promote gender diversity in the classroom. As I mentioned above, the boys will have to work with women even if most programmers end up being men. Diversity in of itself should be a goal for educational reasons. Teachers and schools ought to encourage girls to participate in technology-related clubs and other extracurricular activites.

Unfortunately, the reasons why girls are discouraged from pursuing careers in science and technology have to do with stereotypes and cultural perceptions of gender roles.

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From a father of a 7 (almost) year old girl, THANK YOU! The "men" who say these things are a discredit to every other man in IT who respect and enjoy working alongside women. I'm getting my daughter into programming right now and have not brought up this discouraging fact about the IT world. I will when she's older, but just don't feel it's the right time to bring it up. I hope the IT world changes the attitudes sooner rather than later because there are tons of women and girls who want to get into IT, but who feel the same as your daughter. Again, Thank you for taking such a leading, strong stance on this matter!

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I am a 19 year old graphic design student, and last semester I was required to take a web design class- basic coding with a final project being making our own website, which was something I was looking foward to. During the first lecture, I was excited to learn something that I had never really explored before and even considered minoring in computer science to have a more solid background for potentially being a web designer. The first lab, we did some basic HTML and I finished ahead of most of the class. After looking around I noticed that there were maybe two other girls in a lab of 30 + students. I wasn't bothered by this at first, but soon it became apparent that I was an outsider of sorts. Throughout the semester, every week I would show up to lab prepared and hand in my project for the day a little bit early. Sometimes I was the first to finish, others I would be in the top two or three, never making it apparent that I had any questions. I started to notice that the other students (always a male) would make remarks about my work, asking me if I needed help when clearly I didn't, and just generally micromanaging me. I wasn't struggling or asking questions, yet the young men in my class felt the need to tell me how to do my work that oftentimes exceeded their own. I think that being a college class, the young men knew better ways of making me feel inferior than did your daughter's peers. We had to choose partners for our final website and my partner refused to let me help him with any of the work. I sent him pages of work and showed up to work on the project only to find him playing video games in his dorm room. One day during class I had to use the restroom. Being an art student, I never spent much time in the computer science/ engineering building that the lab was held in and was confused when I couldn't find the women's restroom. I asked a passing professor if she knew where it was, she sighed and told me that because the building was so old and there wasn't a high demand for one, there was no women's restroom. Only one unisex stall in the basement of the three story building was available otherwise I would have to go to another building. 
People refuse to acknowledge the sexism that girls still face on a daily basis, and while it sometimes is not a "get back to the kitchen" joke, it is just as harmful.  

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For what it's worth, there are good programming teachers out there. When I took my first college programming course (Programming in C) almost 30 years ago, the two top guys in the class had a rivalry going over who was smarter/better and they spent a lot of time trash talking each other. Around midterms it got pretty heated and the professor finally got sick of it. He stared them both down, pointed straight at me and said, "She's smarter than both of you put together. You want to know who's at the top of the class? She is. By a lot. And if either of you starts giving her this kind of grief you're out of my class. I don't want to hear another word about this all semester."

They never said another word. Today I am the co-founder and lead programmer at Trash Dogs LLC as well as an attorney. If there's anything I can do to help in getting more women (and more underprivileged kids of any kind) into programming, please let me know.

Sincerely,
Erin Michelle Sky
Trash Dogs LLC