Monday, December 30, 2013

2014: Historic Opportunities for Computer Science

Sun Set; Sun Rise
At the end of the year it is natural to think back about the past year and forward to the coming year. 2013 has been a huge year for computer science and 2014 looks like it could be even more important. After years of effort by many people, that seemed at times to fall on deaf ears, suddenly it seems everyone is talking about one important aspect of computing: coding. Who would have thought?

Coding is not all there is to Computer Science obviously, but it is central to a computing education and the fact that coding has become a subject of widespread conversation is nothing short of fantastic. Not only that, the conversations about coding are putting computer science into a very good light and people are getting enthusiastic about it.

What really excites me about that is the positive fallout of this enthusiasm. I am seeing more and more attention placed on what computing technology can do for people. For society. For the environment. As attention is paid to computing at the level of introductory coding, attention is also being paid to what people who persist in coding, then further computing studies, can do in the world with these skills. That is where the big picture rubber hits the road. Today you code a few lines; a few years from now you can... your imagination is your only limit. 

For example, "entrepreneurial thinking" has taken on the status of buzzword. Every other advertisement for something seems to find a way to toss in "entrepreneurial". As with commercials in general, some use of the word is more plausible than others. Such is the nature of the media. But you know, we have the opportunity to leverage the moment, and the media attention, to make the clearest connection possible between computer science education, computing workforce opportunities and the positive opportunities stemming from technology entrepreneurship.

In the past year we have begun to see widespread STEM education conversations more often recognizing the ubiquity of computing and the opportunities for mutual gain from working together across disciplines. More people have been talking about the goals shared by STEM educators. I have been reading more papers and proposals advocating for, and conducting, cross-disciplinary computing research. Systemic challenges in the K-12 and post-secondary arenas are being examined and we are increasing horizontal and vertical bridges within computing education. I am seeing more and more fascinating uses of computing in support of important issues such as disaster relief, disaster prevention, ecological prediction, and raising global standards of living.

Another area that is receiving (finally!) increased media attention, is the very real economic impact of computing jobs and the need for increasing the number of highly skilled computer science graduates. We are also starting to hear a lot more outside of traditional computing education communities about the need for students with deep knowledge of computing in all sorts of fields. These include the humanities, the arts, the social sciences. The conversations in the so-called "soft fields" about the role of computing are just starting to happen, but they are starting. This conversation is long overdue and it is exciting to see it begin.

Much of what I just touched on wasn't happening a year ago. We are on a roll.

2014 is going to be a critical year for computer science education and computing jobs. We have work to do in all arenas: K-12, community colleges, 4 year colleges and universities, broadening participation and addressing pervasive equity challenges. All is not roses and light. We have our work cut out for us.

In fact, one of the results of all the attention on computer science has been a resurgence of attention paid to some of the pervasive sexist behavior that takes place in areas of the technology industry. Some of what I have read is truly horrible and disgusting. It would be hard to believe that this stuff happens in the 21st Century, except that with social media providing instant and precise transcriptions of people's words, this stuff comes out in the open. The good news? More and more people are recognizing just how destructive, on all fronts (personal, professional, educational, economic, you name it), discriminatory words and behavior are. We have before us an unprecedented opportunity - and obligation - to institute cultural change where it is needed.

I am excited about the opportunities for computer science, and computing in general,  in 2014. We made giant leaps forward in 2013.  Enthusiasm is growing for computer science, computing, computational thinking. Many more people are sticking their toes in the waters of coding and discovering it can be fun! We are talking about curricular opportunities all through K-12 and up through graduate school. New connections and collaborations are being formed between academia and industry in support of increasing the numbers and diversity of highly successful, well prepared computer science graduates. People who never thought about computer science, or who didn't think they had a reason to think about computer science, are checking it out.

What are we going to do with all of this enthusiasm and opportunity? Big ideas are brewing; creative minds are pondering; entrepreneurial spirits are breaking new ground.The onus is on all of us to take part in this historic opportunity. There are so many ways you can help keep up, speed up, the roll we are racing along on, set the direction.

Whatever you are already doing to improve the planet through computing: 
keep at it in 2014. 
Whatever ideas you are percolating on to improve the planet through computing: 
resolve to put them into action in 2014. 

Have a Safe and Happy New Year

Monday, December 23, 2013

Marketing, UX, Consumer Tech Alert: Pink?

Perhaps there's a market for sea gulls
If you are caught up in the materialistic shopping frenzy you are not alone. The shopping malls can be scary places at this time of year. A few days ago I was trying to get to the grocery store in a nearby strip mall and the scene in the parking lots was closely reminiscent of sharks that had smelled blood circling a school of fish. Silly me. Silly me and silly about a hundred other sharks creeping our cars along looking for the tell tale sign of blood-red brake lights coming on, or keys swinging in someone's hand, salivating as we watched narrow eyed, wondering if the nearest ambulatory biped was going to stop at a car in this aisle or at the last moment cut across to another one, leaving us to resume the hunt all over again.

I had just decided that it wasn't worth throwing this much added pollution into the air and wasting this much time for the sake of a few edibles, and had headed for the exit, when, lo and behold, the very last parking spot in the very last aisle vacated a vehicle right in front of me. I pulled in, momentarily in shock that I wasn't still creeping along stalking pedestrians. Disembarking, I set my trajectory for the Kale.

As I navigated my way on foot through the ever circling cars, drivers clearly saddened that I was not heading in the correct direction, the over the top use of Pink in certain places that clearly targeted women was hard to ignore. Why do they think that if it is Pink women will dive right for it? I had a passing image of the pinky color of  frothy blood in the ocean. Ew. I paid more attention to where I was criss-crossing. Eventually, safe in the grocery aisle in front of my precious greens I wondered when some marketing genius would decide to create Pink Kale, Pink Broccoli, and Pink Spinach.

The Exit Strategy was more of the same in reverse. But I had the veggies firmly in hand.

[Fast Forward] Today, as I caught up with the online technology news and information, happy that I had no burning need to go anywhere near any retail establishment, I came across a wonderfully timed article about marketing technology to women. Not surprisingly, pink came up in the discussion.

This fast read is great for developers, UX people, marketing types, and oh, yeah, consumers. I have to share this just in case you are still out there contemplating gifts for your favorite technology nerd (male or female), or in the event you ever plan on buying another technology item, or if you are in the realm of designing technology and are thinking about those oh so talked about "demographics"...

Read On.

Happy Peaceful Quiet Calm Holidays 
that focus on something other than the frenzied accumulation of lots of stuff

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Funding Opportunity: Think CS Education and Jobs

You probably are aware that computing jobs pay very well.  Every state in the country has high paying computing jobs. Did you know that? Yeah, it's true. All 50 states have high paying computing jobs. Not only do computing jobs pay very well but they exist in virtually every significant industry. The public conversation doesn't always focus enough on the ubiquity of computing and computing jobs as it relates to economic and workforce issues.

Sometimes I wonder why, because computing technology supports a global economic infrastructure that we all rely on. However, I'll sit on my hands, leaving the "why" for another day, and stick today with an important aspect of "what":

When we hear talk in the media about the growing numbers of STEM jobs, it really means computing jobs in a big way. That means potential economic benefit all around. You don't need to be in Silicon Valley or working for a traditional high tech firm in order to get a really good computing job.

Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. It is a word that gets people's attention. It's a word that gets government attention.

Given the very slow economic recovery (I heard on the news last night that the U.S. national unemployment rate is still around 7.5%)  it seems a no brainer that there would be a variety of federal funding opportunities to encourage preparing students for these jobs. Funding opportunities that computer science educators can take advantage of.

Many people I work with routinely look to the National Science Foundation for funding opportunities, but not so many people are aware that funds are also available at the Department of Labor. It makes perfect sense actually, given the economic importance of computing to our economy. 

As an example, I want to point you to one such opportunity which hasn't received much press: the YouthCareerConnect grant program. From their web page:

"The Department of Labor will use up to $100 million in revenues from the H-1B visa program to fund approximately 25 to 40 grants for individual or multi-site projects. Grants will be awarded to local education agencies, public or non-profit local workforce entities, or non-profits with education reform experience. All grantees will have to demonstrate a strong public/private partnership, and must include, at a minimum, a local education agency, a local workforce investment system entity, an employer, and an institution of higher education."

My guess is that this CFP (Call For Proposals) is being overlooked by computing educators because of its location in the DOL and because it casts a wide net. Nonetheless, this could be an excellent opportunity to make a large impact, especially if you are already working with, or in conversation with, other entities interested in pushing full steam ahead on the computer science education front.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Investigating the Inner Critic

I can be a bit critical of self-help books, so when Global Tech Women's next book club selection  ("Inner Critic Inner Success" by Stacy Sargent) fell so loudly and clearly into that category, I wasn't sure what I was going to think of it.

The reason my inner critic is so cynical about self-help books is that they are often loaded with well polished statements and implications about how the reader can rid themselves of some undesirable trait or situation with a minimum of effort. These books very often prey upon the reader who hopes that by shelling out a few dollars they will magically transform their life. 

However, I decided I would give it a fair shake, and so I dove right in.

Within a few pages, the inner critic in my head was reciting a well worn script telling me not to expect very much from this book. It seemed I had logic and facts to support this assertion. I found myself noting critically that Sargent was not saying anything new; everything she was talking about in the opening section had been written about in the cognitive science and psychology literature. And why didn't she cite the references? my little voice nagged dismissively.

A more forgiving and compassionate voice in my head waved to get my attention. It pointed out that Sargent was doing a pretty nice job of making those cog sci findings accessible to the average reader. I mean really, spoke up the quieter voice, how many people outside of the academic research community are going to read peer reviewed research studies? If putting the helpful information into a widely accessible form with a beneficial end goal in mind - might that not be a commendable thing to do?

Round 1 was declared a tie between the cynical critic and the compassionate commentator.

Having made strides on clearing the way mentally, things started to get interesting because this book is FULL of exercises and activities. Detailed exercises and activities. I don't have time for this! I groaned at first (the obstructionist cynic), but it occurred to me (the determined optimist) that perhaps I wouldn't be in a position to reach any justifiable conclusions if I didn't give it, all of it, a fair go.

How so? Well, it just so happens, that I am in the middle of undertaking some pretty exciting professional career planning. Thinking big, and figuring out how to pursue things I am really passionate about. Which, as you could probably predict, leads at times to wondering just how crazy I might be.

So when the book started asking me to apply certain activities and introspection to things that might cause me to get in my own way I discovered I had plenty of fodder to work with. The first couple of activities I embarked on were perhaps toughest because that same cynical voice said things like "you know yourself well already, you know what your greatest inner critic is, you can skip this exercise". I squashed that voice, but only because I had promised myself I would.

Er...and discovered on the very first activity, that, as Sargent suggested, things change as we progress in our lives and careers, and what I had assumed was my primary self-imposed stumbling block was no longer true (e.g. The Perfectionist voice is no longer my biggest inner critic. Other voices have insidiously taken front seats). That discovery meant that I could stop putting so much energy into addressing non-existent problems and pay more attention to other ways I might get in my own way.

That first discovery was enough to convince me that this book was on to something. I kept right on plowing along through activity after activity, not worrying about whether or not I was going to finish the book in time for the conversation this Friday. Because by that point, I found I was discovering quite useful things that I can apply to my entrepreneurial career planning. Perhaps foremost being: fooey on what the stick in the mud cynics out there might have to say (including my own inner critics, who pop up up like Whack-a-Moles).

I still haven't finished the book. Maybe I will by Friday, maybe not. No matter: things have come around full circle andI heartily recommend Sargent's book.  Not only that, I'm really looking forward to hearing what other women have to say at the Global Tech Women book club meeting: join us this Friday at 9:00am Pacific Time.