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December 10, 2007

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My parents had no background in engineering or the sciences (and knew no one who did). I sometimes wonder if my career, or at least the academic part of it might have turned out better if they had. Universities are (supposed to be) a place for learning, but grades are often interpreted as a measure of knowledge and even intelligence, rather than as a yardstick for the student to measure what he or she has learned. So undergraduate and graduate school revealed that there were some things I needed to learn, whereas (some) people who came in with stronger background, helped along by parents with such backgrounds (or who knew people with such backgrounds) were able to perform in the learning environment.

One thing I wish I'd known in advance was what the nature of computer science and software engineering is. Edsger W. Dijkstra wrote numerous papers on this subject ( see http://www.cs.utexas.edu/users/EWD/welcome.html ). This sort of thing wasn't apparent to me, especially while I was an undergrad. I was struggling, and didn't realize why. But other students seemed better prepared coming in. There are more of such papers at M.S. Mahoney's History of Computing page ( http://www.princeton.edu/%7Emike/computing.html ). You and your readers might be interested in some of those as they touch on the issue of why more women do not pursue computer science, software engineering, etc.

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