Compsci, India and Women.


Remember that Hit Movie of so long ago? Madhuri Dixit dancing in weddings with her didi‘s devar? Remember the dialogue where she’s telling someone what she’s studying? No? Well, she gushes with a “Compyuuuuterrrrsssss” and that zillion-watt smile of hers, and everyone around her also gushes with pride, and fawn admiringly over her. Well, Bond and I watched that scene not very long ago for the gazillionth time, and used to give that gushing dialogue every time we were asked about our career interests till we felt sick of it. Er, no, it was actually coz the people asking us about our career interests turned out to be potential employers.

Flashback not very long ago. Remember that Bobby Deol-Ajay Devgan flick called Tango Charlie? It had Deol going bride-seeing. His dad asks for dowry. Her dad says hell, I’ve educated my daughter, what more do you want? He says so what, I’m better at stuff than you are. She says I can beat you at most things: Tum Microsoft Word jaante ho? He replies, Haan, pata hai… woh kaun hai?. She smirks. He says he can beat her at goli chalaana, he’s a decorated army officer. She says You Wish. Takes him to a game console. He can’t handle the joystick. She wins. No dahej.

When I was fifteen, every aunt and uncle told me to get into Computer Science. Great field for girls, they said. I had slightly different plans back then. At age seventeen, they said much the same things, apart from raving about the excellent pay and opportunities to go abroad, apart from the easy career path. But now, when I’ve chosen the IT path, they’re saying the same thing about a career in Finances/Marketing/Whatever job it is that an MBA from IIMB [it’s ten minutes from home, so it’s considered an excellent option for me to consider] guarantees you. One aunt had even taken to hounding me at family gatherings and extracting oaths from me to write CAT!
IT for women seemed perfect, dinnit… the world’s first programmer was a woman [Ada Lovelace], the original programmers of ENIAC were women…. the field didn’t deal with heavy machinery, needed a fine hand far as hardware was concerned and a fine mind where software was, size did not matter [smaller devices meant faster computing, and that was discovered by a woman – the Amazing Grace Hopper], wasn’t physically demanding…. basically most of the excuses that kept women out of jobs didn’t apply here, so why aren’t there more women in computing than there are? And I don’t mean in services.. in R&D and teaching [not counting the ALs of NITK], though at school level, 90% of the teachers happen to be women.

And… I don’t see the point of instituting an Anita Borg-esque scholarship for women in computing in Indian colleges as long as the education system maintains its tilt towards rote learning.

On a different tangent, for all the celebrations of India being the next big thing in IT, there’s not much original research coming from Indian institutions [that does not include Microsoft, IBM and Google] … not as much as there should be, anyway.  There’s hell lot of scope for innovations in Natural Language Processing, how come there’s not that many people taking notice? Maybe this sounds like gibberish, maybe this isn’t a well-informed statement, but I feel as long as high-paying IT product and services jobs abound in India, it’s gonna kill, or at the very least, maim original research. It feels like second-wave colonialism to me. In 1890, “computer” was a government post, and I guess the job desc would have been a human calculator. Things don’t seem to have changed much. Correct me if I’m wrong there.

About wanderlust

just your average books-and-music person who wants to change the world.
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12 Responses to Compsci, India and Women.

  1. devika says:

    I guess most of what you have written is right..
    “so why aren’t there more women in computing than there are? ”
    I guess the question should be dropped down to why are there lesser girls in the fields of engineering. As compared to other branches a lot of girls DO take up computer science,and 90% of whom take it for the reasons mentioned above. It is just that the number of girls in the field of engineering and a lot of other field of higher education are lesser. Probably one of the reasons being things like the “no dahej” game do not work in reality. And it is not a very easy thing to change

  2. Tuna Fish says:

    If you want to go somewhere, think beyond convention.

  3. wanderlust says:

    @devika:
    True. I agree hundred percent.
    But, thing is, in the ’80s, the number of women in computing peaked worldwide. And THEN the number has been reducing. Now that’s a very sad trend.
    @tuhina:
    Didn’t get you. My point was that it shouldn’t be beyond convention for a girl to pursue a career in computing, or optimistically speaking, any branch of engineering.

  4. priya says:

    About research in India.. There is not enough money to do that. Indian companies cannot afford the same kind of pay for research (that may not pay off). They have enough cash flow doing the back end jobs, which is what they primarily require to run a company (and hence create employment!)

    I am confident that as they grow and acquire more stability, they will dedicate larger share to quality research programs.

  5. harish says:

    I feel original research will happen. It’s only a matter of time. First, what anyone would want is a comfortable living. IT has provided that for a large section of people who had only a low paying Government job to struggle for not too long ago.
    When the monetary aspirations are met, the aspiration to do ‘something different’ would come. This is when original research will come into play. So, I think, it’s only a matter of time before India too produces her own versions of Apple and Google.

  6. Madhuri Dixit in that film was SOOOO! I was in third standard then, I think, and I had flipped completely for her. That woman is SOOOO!

  7. pr3rna says:

    A few decades ago when parents went bride-seeing the girls parents said, the girl knows all kinds of household work-cooking, sewing, embroidery etc now they have added one more qualification to it- knows computers or she has done a cpmputer course :))Interesting post.
    // there’s not much original research coming from Indian institutions //I agree but that is true about every field, medicine included.

  8. AnSVad says:

    What were your plans at 15? Just curious…

  9. Pingback: Women and IT at Blogbharti

  10. wanderlust says:

    at fifteen, i wanted to be a journo or a writer or something on those lines.

  11. Abi says:

    Just a couple of pointers: Check out this and this.

    I’m sure you know that two of the computer science powerhouses — MIT and Carnegie Mellon — have undergrad programs with women’s participation levels of 35 to 40 percent.

  12. wanderlust says:

    @priya:
    i certainly hope so.
    @harish:
    true. but my point is, the situation where we are in is nothing much to rejoice about. it’s not worth so much of the hoo-haa they make about it. It should be acknowledged that there’s still a long way to go, and that back-end jobs arent the end of the world. people should be aware of opportunities that they can avail of, esp. in research and the like. a career in computing shouldnt be equated with a back end job.
    @spunky monkey:
    I don’t think any actress has subsequently replicated that much of charisma, and i’m yet to see another smile that lit up the place so well.
    @prerna:
    medicine… yeah. but my point was, in IT, a woman doesn’t come across many of the constraints she would come across in a career in medicine, or law, or armed forces.
    @abi:
    heartening link. wonder how the success at mit and cmu can be replicated in the IITs and NITs, where the population of girls is absolutely pathetic. boys outnumber girls ten to one, best case.

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