The incident in which (now former) Google engineer James Damore spoke out against the firm’s diversity policies continues to be in the news, and I continue to get a lot of mail on it, mainly in support of Damore and in disagreement with me. Actually, the more I think about it, the more strongly I feel that Damore was wrong, and I will make a detailed post on this here within the next few days. In particular, I will discuss why Damore’s abiding faith in science may be misguided in various ways.
But for now, I want to call attention to this NPR report titled “Colleges Have Increased Women Computer Science Majors: What Can Google Learn?” Harvey Mudd College, and various others, have worked hard to increase female enrollment in computer science, NPR tells us, and Google could learn a thing or two from them.
Well, things are not always as they seem at first glance. Let’s put aside the fact that Mudd is an extremely selective school, a mini-Caltech/MIT, so the female students there have high math ability and possess “academic street smarts” in spades. The real issue is that Mudd’s “solution” to the paucity of women in CS was to make the curriculum easier. They switched from using the Java language to Python, “which is easier to pick up.”
This is exactly the kind of thing Damore was ranting about! He claims that Google lowers the hiring bar for women, which he says is counterproductive. So for NPR to say “Google should learn from HMC” is missing Damore’s point.
When HMC made this switch in 2006, I took a poll of my students. Both male and female students strongly disagreed with the switch, and the women in particular thought it was insulting.
Mind you, I still disagree with Damore and I actually believe that everyone should learn programming through Python rather than Java or C/C++. But the NPR piece typifies what a muddle has become of conversation on this topic.