Sunday 20 October 2013

The Computer Scientist and the Cleaner 2: Multimedia Extravaganza Edition

The Computer Scientist and the Cleaner is a parable about gender in Computer Science. The story is this:
"The computer scientist and the cleaner had a long and happy marriage. One of their few arguments was when she forgot their wedding anniversary. But their marriage was strong and he forgave her." 
The point of the story is to think about gender preconceptions in CS, as an introduction to a talk to first year student computer scientists I planned to give on gender balance and inclusiveness. I wrote about it in this previous post  and got amazing feedback from... 

... many people at St Andrews, a historian at the University of Dundee, two Readers, a software engineer and a postdoc from Edinburgh University, the former chair of BCS Women, the first female professor at St Andrews, a New York Times bestselling children's author, an antiques dealer in Wales, the Oxford University Student's Union LGBT officer, a high school teacher in Denmark, a postdoc at Liverpool, a freelance photographer, a beer researcher from Heriot Watt, my wife and daughters, a rocket scientist from NASA, a developer at a startup in New York, and the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Scottish Government. 

This feedback came from the blog post, twitter, and facebook, as well as in person, so it's an example of social media really helping dramatically in my work. 

Last friday I gave the talk to First Year Computer Scientists.  A video recording and the slides are below. 

How did it go?  

I annoyed myself by overrunning, which is a bad habit I have of not being able to shut up until slightly too late (though at least not very much too late).  

A new Women in Computing group is being set up in the School and I invited the organiser (a student) to introduce it. She also sent me feedback which was really interesting, and amongst other things told me that the students were at least paying serious attention during the talk. I'd arranged three ways for students to discuss the issue afterwards. I set up a private blog post in the School of Computer Science, I sat in a tutorial room open to discussions, and I invited private emails to me. 

There wasn't a lot of feedback.  I got three emails being very supportive, one negative comment on the blog post saying it was unnecessary and a waste of time, and one person came to talk to me. The person who I chatted with brought me a book to look at, Little Miss Geek, which looks good so I ordered my own copy. 

I had wondered if there would be a lot of negative pushback from men, and there certainly wasn't. Indeed if my talk was a waste of time because everybody already gets it, that would be brilliant. I'm torn between being delighted that people were so accepting, and thinking that maybe people were not accepting but just didn't want to argue with somebody in a position of power (as first-year coordinator), and if that was the case it would be completely understandable. Finally, I expect I get less pushback for the simple fact of being a man, which I've called (very bad name) male geek feminist ally privilege.

If you are considering giving a talk like this, the result is that there's not a lot of advice I can give you. However you are welcome to borrow my slides if you wish, and if you want the originals (keynote) do get in touch with me.

Here's a playlist from youtube of the talk, of the slides and my speaking (no video of the room), with just one or two local references deleted. 

Here are the slides, with a few of the animation slides deleted to help your sanity clicking through those.

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