Archive for April 5, 2017

In Depth: Ladies Learning Code

Posted in Commentary with tags on April 5, 2017 by itnerd

If you like your iPhone, your fitbit, your copy of Microsoft Office, or whatever computer hardware or software that you own and use frequently, you should pay attention to this. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Those products can be way better than they are right now. But that’s not going to happen because roughly half the population aren’t participants in making these products. And the half of the population that I am talking about are women. In other words, your daughters, spouses, and mothers. Women are vastly under-represented in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) which means that the influence that they could provide in the products and technologies that we use every day is simply missing. And what’s worse is that we as a society aren’t helping this because we’re driving women away from STEM related careers. Consider these as proof of this:

  • Teachers admit to having stereotypical bias against girls in STEM: The Daily Dot
  • Unconscious Bias in the Classroom: Google [Warning: PDF]
  • Accenture Finds Girls’ Take-up of STEM Subjects is Held Back by
    Stereotypes, Negative Perceptions and Poor Understanding of Career Options: Accenture

The flipside to all of that is that girls outperform boys when computer science is on the curriculum. That says to me that we need to encourage more participation by women and girls in STEM related subjects. But the sad part is that this is not a new problem. When I graduated from university in the mid 1990s, my computer science graduating class only three women in it. Three. And according to Melissa Sariffodeen who is the CEO of Ladies Learning Code, things aren’t much different in 2017. But her organization is out to change that.

Let’s start with what Ladies Learning Code is. Their purpose is make sure that women and girls, not to mention everyone else, gets every opportunity possible to get the skills to contribute to the high tech world that we live in. The started with a single workshop in 2011 and have since branched out to operating in over 22 cities across Canada. They have a pair of youth focused programs called Girls Learning Code and Kids Learning Code, a educator focused stream called Teachers Learning Code where educators can get lesson plans from the organization to help get coding initiatives off the ground in their schools. Finally they the Code Mobile which brings their programs into communities across Canada. Here’s the best part about this, in my discussions with Ms. Sariffodeen, I discovered that these programs have been around long enough that those who took these courses are now running courses for the next generation. What that says is that the tide is turning in terms of getting more women into STEM related subjects as that will create momentum that will be self sustaining. If you want to see other impacts that this organization is having, I encourage you to read their annual report as is full of enlightening facts.

Coming up on May 13th 2017 is Girls Learning Code Day. This is the fourth year for the event and on that day, hundreds of Canadians girls and their parents will come together to challenge themselves to learn a new skill: digital storytelling & animation using Scratch, a beginner level programming environment. I plan on covering the Toronto event so watch for that story to be posted on the day of the event.

We need to have more women in STEM related careers. And it’s going to be organizations like Ladies Learning Code will make that happen. Do the women in your life a favor and encourage them to attend one of their events. Or donate to the cause via PayPal. At the end of the day, we as a society need all of us to have the skills, ability and opportunity to contribute to the advancement of our society. That’s not going to happen if half of us are on the sidelines.




“Extreme Vetting” Proposal Would Require Some Visitors To US To Share Contacts & Social Media Passwords

Posted in Commentary with tags , on April 5, 2017 by itnerd

This proposal has popped up in the past, and it has been suggested long before Donald Trump became President of the USA, but it now looks like that it may actually happen. The Guardian is quoting a Wall Street Journal story that visitors from 38 countries that participate in the US Visa Waiver Program would be required to hand over mobile phone contacts, social media passwords and financial data as part of the “Extreme Vetting” proposals that are being floated by the Trump Administration. The idea is that this will be used to figure out if a visitor is up to no good.

Here’s why this is not going to work in my opinion. Nobody who is up to no good is going to serve up that information. Nor are they going to make it easy enough to find. Think fake social media handles, burner phones and the like. Not to mention that they’ll leave electronic devices at home. Thus leaving border guards with nothing to search. Plus how does a border agent quickly figure out if you’re a threat when US airports have lineups of people coming into their country if they now have troll your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts? True, there are some details missing here, but It seems incredibly cumbersome, fraught with judicial over-reach, and more to the point, I am not sure what will actually get accomplished by this. As in, will a single “bad dude” get caught by this policy?

One other point. Tourism is a huge economic driver for the US. According to my favorite search engine, it accounted for $1.6 trillion in economic output in 2015. Proposals like this will likely have the effect of driving those dollars away from the US. I’m not sure that is what the folks behind this plan had in mind when they came up with it. But it’s not going to help them get tourists. Previous tweaks to US border rules have resulted in Canadians deciding to avoid travel to the US because of stories of Canadian citizens being denied entry to the US and questioned about their faith. That’s led to school boards and even the Girl Guides of Canada banning trips to the US for fear that all those on such a trip will not be treated equally. This latest move is likely to add to this and the number of people who plan to avoid the USA is about to skyrocket as this idea seems way over the top.

What are your thoughts? Is America doing the right thing or not? Are you going to avoid travel to the US because of this? Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts?