09.03.18 - Miranda Krekovic - a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Audiovisual Communications Laboratory lead by Prof. Martin Vetterli, is no stranger to challenges. Together with a colleague, Marta Martinez, she founded GirlsCoding after an alarming observation on the extensive underrepresentation of women in the field of computer science in both classrooms and conferences.

Rather than simply complaining about the situation, the researchers decided to walk the talk by launching GirlsCoding. Initially, a side project - as she calls it, and then a full initiative, GirlsCoding seeks to raise awareness of computational thinking and to promote computer science as an interesting career choice for women, by organizing workshops and providing a network of role models in female engineers and scientists to girls of nine to 12 years old.

Towards a more balanced participation of women in computer science

“Computer science is changing the world and has an impact on all of us. But women are just barely participating in this exciting transformation,” she highlights. This is particularly evident right here in Switzerland, where at the high school level only 22% of girls choose technical branches, such as physics and applied mathematics. The situation is even more exacerbated at the university level, as only 15 % of the students who study in IC School at EPFL are women.

“I started coding quite early on, when I was nine, as I had the support of both my parents, who are electrical engineers and my older brother, who also studied computer science. However, when I came to high school, I realized that I was the only girl coding and felt that I didn’t belong there. I really liked it, but just felt that, because of the environment, it maybe wasn’t really for me,” Miranda explains. Luckily, her parents, who she credits for being her role models, convinced her otherwise. She went on to study computer science in her home country of Croatia at the University of Zagreb and came to IC School as a doctoral student in 2014.

“Being one of the only girls attending coding classes in a mathematically specialized high school and participating in computing science competitions, I felt the pressure of representing all girls in general. Here in Switzerland, at the doctoral level, the situation is much better, as the diversity and inclusion of all students have helped to create a healthier environment for everyone,” she explains.

“It is definitely not about girls not being capable of studying computer science, but rather about prejudices and perpetuating stereotypes at an early age. GirlsCoding is about showing the girls that coding can be creative and algorithmic problem-solving fun and that none of these are gender-related. So that when the girls need to make a choice of studying one field rather than another, their choice will be an informed one,” concludes Miranda.

Miranda’s Ph.D. work, as well as the GirlsCoding initiative, effectively demonstrate how computer science can empower women to fully participate in shaping society and improving the lives of everyone.

GirlsCoding will be running a workshop in parallel to the HC2 coding contest, one of the largest programming competitions held at EPFL on 17 March. For further information, please visit their website.

Author:Inka SayedSource:Equal Opportunities Office