As a 17-year-old CEO, Megan Holstein leads a company, Pufferfish Software, that designs smartphone and tablet applications for autistic children. She speaks casually about modifying the structural codes of video games and hacking the family's computer password.
As a 17-year-old CEO, Megan Holstein leads a company, Pufferfish Software, that designs smartphone and tablet applications for autistic children.
She speaks casually about modifying the structural codes of video games and hacking the family’s computer password.
(She “brute-forced it” — or, in other words, repeatedly tried similar numerical combinations until she achieved victory.)
She attends networking events for women in technology — and this month addressed a TechColumbus panel on attracting more young females to math and science education. And she describes some facets of her self-taught pursuit as “a lot easier than people give it credit for.”
Pufferfish employs eight part-time adults — all men — in development.
Still, the senior at Dublin Coffman High School hasn’t swayed her peers.
“I’ve had girls tell me, ‘I think computers are cool, but all the boys in that (programming) class are weird,’??” Holstein said.
“I’m one of two girls in a class of 30.”
Despite their near-ubiquitous adoption of gadgets and their social-media savvy, women compose only a fraction of the computer-science majors in the United States — with their numbers, according to the Computing Research Association, on a steady decline since 2000, when they earned 28 percent of such bachelor’s degrees.
In 2010, the most recent year for which figures are available, the statistic was 17.3 percent.
Female students at Ohio State University account for 10.1 percent of the 2012-13 undergraduates in the major — after single-digit upticks in each of the previous two years.
“I’m sorry to report our enrollments are not increasing,” said Bettina Bair, a senior lecturer in computer science and engineering at OSU.
“The awareness is there, but making cultural shifts is hard.”
She called the lack of progress a shame.
As the demand for technology-oriented jobs continues to rise, network architects, Web developers and customer-service specialists, among others, are expected to benefit from faster-than-average growth through 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The opportunities seem particularly plentiful, Bair said, for those with skills gleaned from dual majors in areas ranging from marketing to music.
“We need to let girls know” about options, said Kimberly Kell, a senior computer programmer, 52, for Cardinal Health in Dublin.
“Programming builds a great foundation to move into other fields — analytics, the opportunity to look at leading teams, design.”
Myriad studies, meanwhile, have examined reasons for the gap: Girls tend to doubt their abilities in math and science. And they don’t have many role models in computer science. Also discouraging some of them is the notion that one needs an already-intimate knowledge of computers — a view perpetuated by overconfident colleagues.
“Some of the guys, even though they just finished high school, have a tone: ‘You don’t know that? How come you don’t know that?’??” said Rosi Wyan, an OSU computer-science student who, after earning a finance degree at the University of Texas at Austin, spent three years in business development at Microsoft.
“I’m not afraid to say, ‘I don’t know’ — no guts, no glory.”
Her classmate Carrie Scono agreed.
“Whether you say ‘I need this explained’ or ‘I want this job,’ you have to speak up,” said the 23-year-old, who with Wyan, 30, helps run the OSU chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery Committee on Women.
The club, with a goal of boosting mentoring and involvement, this fall collected $6,000 in grants and donations to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, an annual technical and career-building conference conducted most recently in Baltimore.
Other observers cite a dearth of female peers as a potential deterrent.
Which explains why Jen Myers, a Web designer in the Olde Towne East neighborhood, two years ago founded a chapter of Girl Develop It — part of an international nonprofit that fosters networking and hands-on instruction.
Open to women (and men, too) of any skill level, the central Ohio group recently launched monthly “co-working” get-togethers in the Grandview Grind coffeehouse.
Its message to other women: You aren’t alone.
“I was the only girl in my classes, the only woman in my office,” said Myers, 31. “The whole idea is to break down barriers for anyone to learn this stuff.”
Such an attitude has attracted Girl Develop It participants such as Kim Hamper of Grandview Heights, who recently began pursuing a software-engineering degree online via Harvard Extension School.
The 26-year-old — who, having studied biology, has a job in quality control — first used books to master coding basics.
She also values connections and camaraderie.
“The community part is important,” Hamper said. “It’s kind of hard to find people who are new or learning.”
Yet the time to enter the field is apparently never too late.
At age 61, Jane Bardwell of Bexley recently released Cue You — a $29.99 app that helps the elderly or disabled communicate schedules and health needs among relatives and caretakers.
She joined business partner Sally Larrimer, 62, in hiring an outside developer for assistance with the inner workings of codes and mechanics.
Neither woman saw her age, sex or knowledge gap as a hindrance.
“It was a very heartening process,” said Bardwell, a retired design-company owner.
“We’re older women. Maybe that’s why we weren’t too intimidated.”