Identity Traits in CS

Three years ago, I was living in deep, deep South Texas (also known as the ‘valley’.) I was probably ten minutes away from the Mexican border. Down there, it might as well be 99% Hispanic.

The valley culture is very traditional, Tex-Mex and it’s not the norm to move outside there.

So when I said I was leaving the valley and going to Austin to attend UT, it was a huge deal.

I came to UT and was going to major in Computer Science. At the time, I was every bit of unaware of what being in CS would mean.

Here’s the mind blowing part:

Take a girl from the valley who’s used to seeing Hispanics and Hispanic girls everywhere and then put her in CS. Everything she was used to seeing was nowhere to be seen.

That was my first introduction to the gender and diversity problem in CS.

Yesterday, I attended an event hosted by my department to promote and discuss diversity in tech. There was one session where we had to write down our own identity characteristics (e.g, gender, race, ethnicity, age, religion, etc.) For me, it was: female, white, Hispanic, 21, Catholic and so on. Next, we had to pick which identities affected most of how we thought of ourselves and which ones we thought influenced others what they thought of us. I repeatedly chose gender and ethnicity.

That’s when an epiphany of sorts struck me.

Why would I keep picking those two traits?

Three years ago, those would have meant nothing in the valley. There was a Hispanic girl everywhere. Fast-forward to now and I can count the amount of Hispanic girls I have met in CS with both of my hands.

That above has to mean something.

I keep reading articles and hearing people talk about what causes the gender and ethnicity problem in tech. It’s not just a pipeline issue. It’s not just a retention issue. It’s both. But it’s also starting early and having those girls show other younger girls that look like them what cool things one can do with CS. After all, it’s nice to see a familiar face that we can also look up to.