Maths, women and programming (Re: [Techtalk] Theory vs. practice)

Mary Gardiner linuxchix at
Tue Jan 15 14:09:05 EST 2002

On Mon, Jan 14, 2002 at 07:41:04PM -0600, Glenda R. Snodgrass wrote:
> > Oddly enough, a friend on IRC was lamenting the decline of maths
> > today. "How can you think you can program if you can't understand
> > mathematics?" sort of thing. Not being a programmer, I wouldn't
> > know. :)
> I personally think one of the reasons so few women consider a career in
> computers is because of the (IMO) over-emphasis on high-level math being
> necessary to work in computers.  Now granted, to do high-level
> programming, algorithms and such, high-level math is required.  But there
> are many many many jobs in computers that require little or no math
> whatsoever.

But of course we shouldn't turn that into "don't worry girls, maths
isn't required, so you can do it too!"

I did three years of maths at uni. In first year, there were many many
women, because a year of maths is required to get a Science degree,
which should demonstrate that any inherent gender gap is at best tiny.
By second year the percentage of women had fallen dramatically to about
5-10% of a class (from perhaps 40-50%).

Now since I have done a lot of maths I can't really comment on how
people can program when they don't understand maths, but I really don't
think that maths should be regarded as 'the enemy' of women in
computing, because that hurts women mathematicians, or women who might
become mathematicians.

Whatever is keeping women out of computing may be the same thing that is
keeping them out of maths, physics and engineering (~5% of all
engineering students at my uni are female, which is much worse than
computing), and the problem won't necessarily be solved by trying to get
more women into computing alone among those fields.


Mary Gardiner
<mary at>

GPG Key ID: 77625870 (

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