EJ Jung (left), assistant professor of computer science, works with students at her summer camp for middle school girls, Computer Science for San Francisco Youth.
USF women are leading and succeeding in diverse
industries, including many that remain dominated by men. Here, in honor of
Women’s History Month, we present a series of profiles of exceptional,
inspirational women who are making their mark in fields from computer science
to stand-up comedy.
Shattering the glass ceiling
Among the most male-dominated of professions is one in which
jobs are plentiful and salaries are high: computer science. Women earn more
than half of all college degrees but just 18 percent of those are in computer
science, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology.
And the percentage of women working in computing has declined dramatically
since the 1980s.
EJ Jung, assistant professor of computer science at USF, is
the second tenure-track female in the department. She’s also an expert in
Internet security and runs USF’s Computer Science for San Francisco Youth, a summer
camp for girls. She shares what she loves most about computer science and the
challenges she’s faced in the industry.
Boys vs. Girls
How did you get into the
I went to a special high school for math and science. I
thought I’d be a mathematician, but when they offered a computer science course,
I fell in love with the elegance of it. There are so many different ways of
achieving the goal you want. When I saw elegant solutions, I was like, ‘Whoa,
this is awesome. This is what I want to be able to do.’
Were most of your
There were about five boys for every one girl. In college, the
ratio became 10 to one, and when I went to grad school, it was still 10 to one.
Women in computer science
What obstacles did
you face as a woman in the industry?
I think there are challenges that are applicable to any male-dominated
discipline. You have to be your own salesman and radiate confidence, and it’s
more the male culture to brag about yourself. When you’re presenting your
article or your findings, you have to have this almost fake masculine attitude
of ‘Oh I’m so great.’ And that has been a challenge. I originally thought it
was because I’m Asian, and I’m coming from a culture where we don’t brag about
ourselves, or because I’m not as confident in my English or because I’m a woman.
Why do you think many
girls choose not to study computer science?
Women are socially driven, and many think that computer
scientists are lonely, that we just sit in front of the computer by ourselves, and
that we don’t have many friends. It’s very untrue, but that image definitely
pushes women away. But when girls realize they can help people with their
programming skills, they jump on it.
Training the next generation
How do we increase
the number of women in computer science?
I don’t believe we have to have more female computer
scientists, and I think it surprises a lot of people when I say that. There is
research that shows that when you have a more diverse workforce, you get better
products and more customer satisfaction. But I’m not going to tell my girls to
be computer scientists so we have better products or increase the national GDP.
I just don’t want anyone to think, ‘I’m the only girl in this group. Maybe I
shouldn’t do this.’ I don’t want people to not have opportunities because of
gender. It’s unfair.
Tell us about your summer camp.
At my summer camp, middle school girls learn programming,
how to work with HTML and make games. They go on field trips to Twitter and
Mozilla and are encouraged and supported. I make an extra effort to recruit
girls of color and show them that they can express themselves through computer
science. Sometimes I get random emails from parents and girls years later saying,
‘Hey, I was in your program years ago, and I’m doing computer science at so-and-so
college.’ It’s pretty cool.