Technology

Analysis shows Oklahoma lacks women in computer science

Posted April 16

— An analysis posted April 6 by Code.org revealed that more computer science degrees were awarded last year than ever before. But it also shows that women remain significantly underrepresented in the field, obtaining just 17.5 percent of those 49,000 degrees. Historic data shows women pursuing computer science degrees peaked in 1987, the year Microsoft Windows was introduced, Steve Wozniak departed from Apple, and the world was introduced to the 3.5-inch diskette.

In Oklahoma, women are even further underrepresented, where just 15 percent of 2015's 446 computer science graduates were female, Code.org reported. And that's despite Oklahoma's average computing profession salary of $68,598 and 2,214 open jobs.

Rick Howard, chief security officer of Palo Alto Networks, is well-aware of the disparity. Recruiting must begin in secondary schools and businesses should support candidates through college and offer potential workers a job right after graduation, Howard told The Journal Record (http://bit.ly/2p2jvfO ).

His company is working with high school students in a competition hosted at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. They could win scholarships and receive mentoring through college. But the industry needs a nationwide effort to bring in more people of different backgrounds, Howard said.

Women make up about 25 percent of the technology workforce, compared with about 50 percent across all business segments, he said. For people of color, it's less than 10 percent.

"The good news is that it is a giant opportunity because everyone is looking for women and minorities in their cybersecurity team," Howard said.

Howard was among several speakers who addressed challenges at a Cox Business executive forum on April 7 in Tulsa at the Cox Business Center.

Professor Tyler Moore said University of Tulsa administrators are reconfiguring cybersecurity classes to be less esoteric and more relevant. Learning how to write computer code is too disconnected from reality for many students.

"Gender parity is a problem in all of computer science," Moore said. "Research says we need to create an environment to motivate students from the beginning to work on real problems with computing."

Cox Communications Chief Technology Officer Kevin Hart said the company recently expanded its internship program to include students from TU and it also has a mentoring program with high school students in Atlanta, where the company is based.

Kim Keever said she was attracted to cybersecurity because she likes fixing things. The chief information security officer and senior vice president of security and technology services at Cox Communications said she found she can pique people's interest by demonstrating cybersecurity problems that need to be fixed.

She brought Cox's password cracker to her son's high school science fair. Students and parents entered their own passwords from different account types into the computer, which then shows how quickly a hacker could figure out the password. A password that could be hacked in two days could become more secure by adding a few numerical or special characters, she said.

"When they see a password goes from being cracked in two days to being cracked in 180 million years, they say, 'wow, how does that work?'" Keever said.

She said it is part of the company's corporate culture to encourage and promote people in less-represented groups into executive-level positions. All of the company's regional security chiefs are women or minorities, she said.

"We have to encourage everyone who has something to offer to just be themselves and not feel like they have to be molded into something they are not," Keever said.

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