Thursday, March 09, 2006

Women's Day

I finally did some work that my mother can appreciate.

For March 8, International Women's Day, the Google Beijing office asked me to write an article for the Google China Blog in Mandarin. It's about my perspective as a female software engineer.

In it, I mention an incident at Nanjing Univ. last October, when a girl came to me after my tech talk and asked, "I'm studying computer science, and I like it. But women are not so suitable for studying programming. Should I switch majors now before I go further down this path?"

"Why would you think women are not suitable for computer science?" I inquired.

"After we reach 30 years old, our physical energy and mental abilities deteriorate, so we won't be able to keep up with the men."

My article states that the greatest threat of these "predictions" is letting them sap one's self-confidence.

I sent the article to my mother, and after reading it, she phoned me with an especially delighted tone of voice. "It's great! Great!! Very great."

This is undoubtedly influenced by the fact that she's mentioned in the article. I described how as a female engineer, and also having skipped 3 grades, I encountered many a skeptic growing up, who protested that I was too young or not suitable for my field. In the article, I mentioned how fortunate it was that my parents never took them seriously.

I dearly hope that the Nanjing girl will stick to her interests and prove her naysayers wrong too.

What I told her at the time was, "There have been many discriminations throughout the ages that are now proven wrong. There was prejudice against the ability of black people as professionals, and we now know that was wrong. Now there is prejudice against gay people, which has been overthrown too."

Those may not have been the most convincing examples, since many Chinese people are still quite prejudiced against black people and gay people. But might as well aim for 3 birds with 1 stone.


Hasan said...

I've had some of my female relatives whinge that "girls can't do engineering", "we don't have the mind for it", etc. and you know, I'd agree with them, but for the fact that person credited with being the first programmer -- Ada Augusta Byron -- is a female. I also point out that the difference between them and myself is merely one of attitude and if they put their energy into doing it, rather than whinging about perceived discrimination, there is no reason they can't succeed.

Anonymous said...

I forced myself to do engineering purely because I wanted to break the stereotype. In reality, I wasn't all that intrested in it and eventually I burned out.

It's funny. . when I quit the engineering track, people assumed it was because I felt discouraged by male dominance. At Stanford I never felt discriminated against, and I quit the track because I just didn't enjoy it and it sucked away at my life. Trust me, there are PLENTY of men who quit the CS track for the exact same reason. I don't really know what my point is, but that's my story.