Friday, July 26, 2019

What advice would you give to a young woman in high school considering computer science?

Subject: Question: Young women in computer science
To: Keith Winstein <keithw@...>
Date: Fri, 26 Jul 2019 08:47:14 -0400

I am a senior at XYZ High School in Pennsylvania and the only young woman taking our AP computer science courses. My principal wants my thoughts on increasing computer science interest level among young women. I am asking a number of professors the following question:

What advice would you give to a young woman in high school considering computer science?

If you can spare a few minutes to respond via email, it would be greatly appreciated.  

Thank you.

Subject: Re: Question: Young women in computer science
From: Keith Winstein <keithw@...>
Date: Fri, 26 Jul 2019 12:53:10 -0700

I guess I would say "welcome"!! I hope you find computer science rewarding and look forward to reading your contributions to the field over time. There are so many diverse ways to be a computer scientist and to do computer science. I hope your early years in the field end up exposing you broadly and sparking your interest.

One thing I would say is that it's valuable to find good mentors, people you look up to and whose examples you can try to "live up" to and from whom you can learn as much as possible. A lot of undergraduates unfortunately become fixated on their own classmates, and worry about trying to "keep up" with these people or "catch up" to their level of preparation. In the grand scheme of things, these people are not so important -- in my experience, it's more valuable to have goals, and mentors and heroes who embody those goals and serve as an example for you to try to "live up" to over the many years of your (hopefully long) education and career. Of course it may take you a while to figure out what kind of person you want to become and who you want to look up to. :-)

And a different interview about graduate school here:

Some advice you may want to read: Justine Sherry's ( or Michael Ernst's ( or Jennifer Rexford's ( The basic truth is that "imposter syndrome" is very common (among both men and women), and it can be helpful to recognize that.

The second thing I would say is that there are a lot of great events for women in computer science, and a lot of people I know really enjoy and are inspired by attending them! So, attend the Grace Hopper Celebration (, both while you're in high school and continuing in college, at least if you can make it and if it looks interesting to you. (This is probably the biggest one.) Consider attending an ACM-W event or starting an ACM-W chapter (

The third thing I would say is to read a lot of books. Computer science is a broad field, and there are so many ways to experience and enjoy and contribute to it. It's helpful to have some exposure to different parts of the field. Some of the great ones include:
  • Hofstadter, "Godel, Escher, Bach" (can be a life-changing book)
  • Hofstadter, "Metamagical Themas" (also a really fun read if you liked G.E.B.)
  • Gardner, "aha! Gotcha" -- fun book about paradoxes
  • "How to Design Programs," and do the assignments (free online:
  • Abelson and Sussman, "Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs," also free online
  • Levy, "Hackers: Heroes of the Information Revolution" by Steven Levy (this is a fun story about the history of "hackers" and a bit about Silicon Valley)
  • Steiglitz, "A Digital Signal Processing Primer: With Applications to Digital Audio and Computer Music" -- this was a life-changing book for me when I read it the summer before college. Computer science (and EECS) is about more than just programming!
  • Sipser, "Introduction to the Theory of Computation" -- this is a junior-level textbook but you might be ready for it and enjoy it -- it's a great book
Number four, read these famous (and semi-depressing?) essays that every high-school student should read:
Good luck, and please feel free to get in touch again if I can be helpful,