Women programmers in India and the U.S.

A general trend is that there are more and more women programmers in both India and the U.S., but India is ahead. Women in the U.S. make up less than 20% of all undergraduate degrees in Computer Science and Engineering, and women studying IT in India are roughly at the same percentage, but India has doubled the number of women enrolled in IT colleges. What motivates a woman to succeed as a programmer or an engineer?

We’ll let the programmers speak for themselves.

Neeta is a 28-year-old Indian programmer who was offered a job upon graduating from BIRLA Institute, a prestigious IT college. “In India, science is promoted as something that can benefit our culture. Also, the literacy rate has improved from 15% in 1971 to 54% currently. This means that all daughters in upscale or average families are well educated; girls who grow up in respectable families get a lot of encouragement in education and career. It is no longer an idea that women can depend on a man or a marriage for everything,” explains this programmer in India. “My brother is an engineer, and now earns 500,000 rupees a year.” How much is that in U.S. dollars? Almost $10,000.

Says Kamala, another female happily employed as a programmer in India, “Women in India are not seen as unattractive in any way if they are good at math and science. India’s percentage of women undergraduates doubled from 1997 to 2000, and is now 20% of undergraduates. In Kerala, 50% of technical college graduates are women,” notes this Indian programmer. “There is no prejudice against women programmers in India, and in fact, in the South, they are often sought after and even offered more money sometimes than men. Some companies fight to hire women programmers. Also, having a career does not hurt a woman’s chances of marrying, as was previously thought,” smiles this Indian programmer. “Everyone in my family encouraged me to be a programmer, and cheered when I won math and science contests. I started at age 10, which is a great time to start.”

Kerry, a programmer in the U.S., tells us, “My parents sent me to summer camp for computers when I was 12. Throughout high school, I gradually realized there was a career in this. I learned programming here and there in high school, and eventually entered a top U.S. college and majored in Computer Science. This whole time, I kept getting encouragement– from my parents, my family, and my teachers. I think that kept me going. Nothing was ever said to discourage me– but the positives–the encouragement–made me succeed as a programmer.”

Sunita, another Indian programmer who graduated from one of the top 20 IT colleges in India, says that, in addition to encouragement, in India programming is seen as a select profession, not lowly like working in a factory. “It is one of the few respectable professions a woman can go into to earn a good living, help support her family, and do good for the country,” this programmer in India adds.

Sudha, an Indian programmer who graduated with top honors in Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a prestigious IT and science-oriented college, believes that “In the U.S., the culture produces a certain image of cute women with glamorous careers. Careers in science don’t seem as appealing, and girls don’t choose women mentors who are in a science field. I had a science teacher who mentored me when I was 10. She told me, ‘Smart women can go far in the IT field. You can start as a programmer and end by having your own huge IT company.’ Women in India aren’t all fooled by this air-head, glamour image of what a woman should be,” says this programmer in India. “In India, if there is a chance to get scholarships and get a good career, we take it, no matter if it seems glamorous or not. By 2002, the percentage of female IT college graduates doubled from what it was 6 years earlier. It is still rising.”

According to one study by the University of Michigan and the University of California at Berkeley, soon the IT workforce in India is expected to be 45% female, and in some IT colleges, 50% of the graduating class are women. There will be a 22% increase in the number of technical jobs in India and the U.S. by 2018. That means we had better start encouraging and rewarding young women for success in the IT field.

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