Computer science, as well as the rest of engineering as an academic discipline for that matter, is a choice of major surrounded by seemingly implicit stereotypes. Many, if not most, of these broad, negatively charged generalizations are largely unfounded, and reflect poorly upon students who choose to pursue a very powerful, creative and constructive concentration of study.
Speaking from a place of experience, here are five statements or concepts that have annoyed CS students at my school, when implied or mentioned in conversations past:
1. We’re all painfully nerdy?
False. We’re perfectly and delightfully nerdy…there’s nothing painful about it.
It’s an important distinction to make, so embrace it, dear friends.
2. We live as hermits?
Also false. CS folks love having a good time and are just as social as you outside of the classroom. While, naturally, computer science students often clump together due to their shared technological interests and professional aspirations, we also easily can forge friendships across majors and become integrated into all kinds of social circles and organizations (this includes greek life, you guys!). Our major is by no means an isolating factor.
3. We don’t sleep?
Oft-attached to the idea of programming is the image of the student hunched over their laptop in the early hours of the morning, eyes glazed over with fatigue as their Cheeto-stained fingers frantically type lines of code…
…This is a very real and accurate scenario.
It’s true, a lot of CS majors don’t sleep, not because of their supposed “oddity”, but, in reality, due to the inherent rigor and time-consuming need for precision required by their work. One wrong parenthesis or semicolon, one slight character slip on the keyboard is all that's needed to compromise the functionality of an entire project. Mistakes aside, coding, like any language, takes copious amounts of time and a lot of thought, so it makes sense that those who work in it might have to dedicate time at night to ensure the completion of an assignment.
4) We’re all men?
There is no denying the disheartening demographics of CS. In aggregate, only roughly 20% of CS majors in America’s universities are female, with the percentage even decreasing at many top research universities (a commendable exception to this phenomenon is Stanford University, which boasts a 30% figure for women in their CS program) . Likewise, while many of the top paying jobs available to college graduates are reserved for individuals with degrees in computer science and engineering, only 18% of these jobs are held by women. Luckily, global concerns about current and future roles of women in computing occupations have correlatively increased in frequency and importance with the emerging information age. Dialogue within public policy debates has addressed gender equality as computer applications have increased in influence on society. Many high-tech employers, such as Facebook, Pinterest, and Etsy, seek to increase technology innovations, while simultaneously seeking to reduce the consequences of sexism within the industry.
However, by no means have women held a subordinate role in the history of computing. Many of the earliest programmers and predecessors to programmers were female, dating as for back as the 19th century. In the mid-1840s, British mathematician and writer Ada Lovelace, for example, was the first individual to craft an algorithm intended to be carried by the Analytical Engine, an early computational device whose design is recognized today as having all the essential elements of a modern computer. Lovelace is credited as the first computer programmer for this reason and her notes became one of the most critical documents to inspire Alan Turing’s efforts on crafting the first modern computers in the 1940s.
5) We aren’t creative?
There is much room for creative energy in the realm of computation and it’s applications, yet so few people recognize computer science for the technological art form that it is.
Yes, it’s true, CS is structured, requires large amounts of memorization and mathematical knowledge, and, arguably, has a much steeper learning curve than majors in the arts, but by no means is it a strictly linear field devoid of creativity.
Computers themselves are innately creative. They are a staple in our lives nowadays as individuals in the digital age, and reflect in their very existence the vast capabilities of humankind to create and innovate.
Not only that, we carry within our devices entire cultures, and have revolutionized virtually every form of study with our ability to research and share pertinent information. Computer technologies are created and exist to serve, assist and, in some ways, compliment people’s lives. Just like any fine work of art, websites, applications, software and all other forms CS takes on also reflect the vision and aesthetics of the programmer who coded them into existence. Engineers ARE artists.
So, non-CS friends, when you see your next friendly, neighborhood CS nerd, make a conscious effort to avoid including these stereotypes in your dialogues. They will most certainly appreciate it.
CS friends, just keep hacking and know how fabulously nerdtastic you are.
Lead Image Credit: Unsplash.