by adam on April 4, 2012
“Most of the female students were unwilling to go on in computer science because of the stereotypes they had grown up with,” said Zachary Dodds, a computer scientist at Mudd. “We realized we were helping perpetuate that by teaching such a standard course.”
To reduce the intimidation factor, the course was divided into two sections — “gold,” for those with no prior experience, and “black” for everyone else. Java, a notoriously opaque programming language, was replaced by a more accessible language called Python. And the focus of the course changed to computational approaches to solving problems across science.
“We realized that we needed to show students computer science is not all about programming,” said Ran Libeskind-Hadas, chairman of the department. “It has intellectual depth and connections to other disciplines.”
Well, sometimes computer science has depth and connections to reality. Other times we get wrapped around some little technical nit, and lose sight of the larger picture. Or sometimes, we just talk about crypto and key lengths.
If we want more diversity in computer security, we have to look around, see what’s working and take lessons from it. Otherwise, we’re going to stay on the hamster wheels. There’s excellent evidence that more diversity helps you solve certain classes of problems better. (See, for example, “Scott Page’s The Difference.)