When It Comes To Computers, It’s Time To Leave Your Comfort Zone

Did you know women accounted for 30-40% of computer science students in the United States in the mid-1980s? And yet now, according to the National Science Foundation we are at an all-time low: only 16% of computer science students are women. And this disparity isn’t only seen in the academic realm — in 2016, only 26% of the workforce in computing was made up of women! But it’s no wonder that computers and programming are such a mystery to so many; the gender biases in the computer science industry run rampant and only seem to worsen with time.

You might be a part of that 26%. Or, you might be wondering whether you really need to learn more computing skills — after all, can’t you just get along as you always have?

Unfortunately, no. As the driven and successful career women we are, we can’t stay satisfied being on the outside looking in, especially with new technology like virtual and augmented reality so getting more and more prevalent every day. But just in case those statistics aren’t motivating enough, consider these five reasons we should all work to upgrade our computer skills:

1) You can leverage your new skills at your current job.

There are many ways you can implement even basic computing skills into a new project at work, which you can then leverage into a raise. And let’s be honest, with the disparities between living wage, minimum wage, and average salaries, who among us wouldn’t want a raise? Maybe you check out your company’s website and it’s incredibly clunky and difficult to navigate — or fresh customers are lacking, and you want to bring in some new faces. Propose a mock-up of an easier-to-use website you can create, or recommend a project to revamp the company’s online marketing using Pinterest, Instagram, or Twitter (with you as the project leader, of course!).

2) If you actually take the plunge and switch careers, computing jobs are more flexible.

Would you like to get paid to write captions for TV, YouTube, and Facebook videos? How about writing cold emails on behalf a company? What if I told you you could complete both these jobs in a messy bun and sweatpants? A basic online search can show you just how many opportunities are out there for working from home on your own schedule. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, or just don’t want to waste hours of your life in traffic, these are great job opportunities that open up to you once you learn some simple computer skills.

3) With computing, you can automate tasks in your life to free up time.

From the simple automation tools we can create with a click, to more advanced programs that require a bit more learning, computing and code can take hours of work off of our loaded plates. With tools like Al Sweigart’s book, “Automate the Boring Stuff with Pythonyou’d be surprised how much grunt work our computers can do for us. Some examples Sweigart discusses on his website are updating and formatting data in spreadsheets, encrypting PDFs and embedding watermarks, and even sending reminder emails and text notifications! LaTeX, while a bit complicated to learn, automatically formats your documents and reports into publishable creations. LaTeX is actually used to create professional textbooks and articles for research journals. This would be especially handy if you’re like me, with report writing and digital monthly billing making up a large bulk of your day-to-day work. I just discovered this program last year, and even though I haven’t quite put in the time to master it, I can’t help but wonder, “Where have you been all my life?!”

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4) Schooling is becoming more and more computer-based — stay up-to-date on your children’s education!

This is a given, but if we don’t learn basic computing, you can forget about helping your children and grandchildren with homework in the very near future. All of my students these past few years have had online assignments due on a weekly basis through online learning management systems that track various data types, such as how much time the student spent reading a passage and how quickly (and accurately) they can take an online quiz. With virtual and augmented reality on the horizon, don’t be surprised if our children have virtual assignments to complete for class. It still seems surreal to me, but one of my 9-year-old tutoring students is learning programming through her 4th grade class. Coding wasn’t even offered at my schools until I hit high school, and even then wasn’t commonplace! Needless to say, if we don’t start learning computing and, yes, code, we will be left in the dust by the 3-year-olds of future generations.

5) All of society is becoming more tech-focused, so learning basic computing will allow you to take advantage of the new tools at your disposal.

If you own your own business, you can use analysis of basic (or complex) data to: learn about your customer’s preferences based on where they go in your store, track how long they’re in your store (or website), and which marketing techniques are bringing you more customers so you can use your time more effectively. But it’s not just a “business thing”; the new developments in the Internet of Things can work to improve your health and even reduce your home expenses. I personally have my thermostat automatically minimize the air conditioning or heater when it senses I left the house, and that alone saves me some serious cash.

The latest commercial to pop up on my YouTube presents an animated world where a female engineer creates a robot tool to help her romantic interest get through his taxes and business paperwork, so he can get back to doing what he loves — floral arrangements. Aside from the fact that it beautifully defies society’s gender roles, this feminist and culturally inclusive presentation of a young, beautiful, Hispanic woman working as an engineer should be a wake-up call to all of us: leave your current comfort zone and go learn some computing!

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