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Paul Graham Has No Idea How to Get Girls Into in Tech, But Plenty of Other People Do

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As Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham defends his comments about women being 10 years behind men in tech, the conversation proves that sexism in the field is still a problem.

By Betsy Mikel (Contributing Writer, Women 2.0)

The Internet is reeling after The Information published an interview with Y Combinator co-founder and Silicon Valley celebrity Paul Graham in which he commented on the imbalance of women and men in tech and what to do about it. The condensed version: Graham thinks women are at a disadvantage because they haven’t been hacking for the past 10 years like their male counterparts.

“We can’t make women look at the world through hacker eyes and start Facebook because they haven’t been hacking for the past 10 years,” he said in the interview.

When discussing sexism and discrimination in tech with The Information, Graham said he didn’t think it was a problem. He simply thinks girls don’t start hacking early enough.

He went onto explain that most technology companies look to hire developers who began hacking computers at a young age. He says the best developers — whether they found their own tech startups or work for them — are those who discovered programming on their own as kids. He thinks those who get into programming as computer science majors are already too far behind.

“It’s already too late,” Graham said about students getting their start as CS majors. “What we should be doing is somehow changing the middle school computer science curriculum or something like that. God knows what you would do to get 13 year old girls interested in computers. I would have to stop and think about that.”

Graham is now defending his comments on Twitter and is responding to journalists who reported on the interview. He claims he was misquoted and his comments were published out of context.

Whatever your thoughts on Graham’s comments, it’s true that there are simply more male developers than female ones. It’s also true that girls are not exposed to tech as early as boys are.

Colleen Taylor dug a little deeper into the cause of the tech gender bias in TechCrunch:

“So perhaps the best way to get a girl interested in computers is simply to put them in front of her as often and as early in life as we do for her male counterparts — and even more importantly, encourage her to approach computers as a producer, rather than as a consumer.”

Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson wrote a blog post that highlights some of the initiatives that aim to close the gap by introducing middle school and high school girls to tech. Here are just a few he highlighted:

  • Girls Who Code: a summer program in New York and San Francisco that’s now adding after school programs for young women to learn to code.

  • Black Girls Code: Provide young and pre-teen girls of color opportunities to learn in-demand skills in technology and computer programming.

  • TEALS and Code.org: Bringing CS education to the broader public school landscape with initiatives like Hour of Code, which in turn expose underrepresented groups to tech.

Wilson describes his own experience at Academy For Software Engineering:

“The young women who enroll at AFSE are incredible,” Wilson said. “I have spent a fair bit of time with them and I can tell you that they work hard, study, take school seriously, and can code as well as the boys. So it can happen, it should happen, and if we make the effort, it will happen,” Fred Wilson said.”

What take do you have on Paul Graham’s comments?

BMikelPhotoSquareBetsy Mikel is a freelance copywriter and content strategist who helps brands, businesses and entrepreneurs tell their stories. A journalist at heart, her curiosity drives her to find something new to learn every single day. Follow her on Twitter at @betsym.