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Karen Catlin talks women in tech

Octavia Sun
Octavia Sun

On Thurs., Sept. 4, Karen Catlin, former Vice President of Adobe Systems, spoke at Mills College regarding women in the technology industry.

During her talk, Catlin stated that there has been a drop in the amount of women receiving bachelor’s degrees in computer science, from 37 percent of women getting undergraduate degrees in 1985, at its peak, to 18 percent in 2012. By 2022, the United States will need approximately 1.2 million more computer scientists to keep up with the rate at which technology is expanding. 

Catlin stated that there has been a nationwide decrease in female computer science majors due to the rise of the personal computer. With the personal computer,  boys generally tend to be the ones to play computer games and learn how to code at an early age, while girls are less encouraged to pursue careers in technology.

Catlin states it is important to have more women in the technology industry because “women bring more to the table” in terms of ideas and perspectives.

“Teams with women, or mostly women, create more effective solutions,” Catlin said, “Women help drive innovation”.

Catlin also mentioned that colleges such as Harvey Mudd College, The College of William and Mary, and Carnegie Mellon were able to increase the amount of female majors in computer science. The colleges used techniques such as offering multiple sections of computer science based on prior ability and offering mentorships with older students which helped to increase the percentage of women in the computer science department by approximately 30 to 40 percent.

Starting with a single computing class with one professor and one student in 1974, Mills became the first women’s college to offer an undergraduate degree in computer science. Its graduates have gone on to work at Google and Microsoft. However, only approximately 3 percent of Mills undergraduates are obtaining degrees in computer science, according to computer science Professor Susan Wang.

Visiting Professor Umit Yalcinalp said that at Mills there is informal mentoring among the professors and students. Yalcinalp hopes to bring more people from the industry to talk at Mills such as some from Yahoo.

First-year computer science graduate student Heather Myers thought the talk was impressive due to Catlin’s high amount of personal experience.

“I definitely think it was an excellent talk; it preached to the choir,” Myers said. “It’s definitely a topic worth discussing. Just talking about it is really important.”

There will be a panel on Women, Careers, and Technology on Mon., Sept. 15 at 4 p.m. in the Lorry I. Lokey Graduate School of Business at Mills with female executives from Salesforce, Macy’s, Google, cleanME, and AT&T participating.