‘It’s Cool To Be A Hacker’

By Christine Des Garennes
The News-Gazette, Champaign-Urbana, Ill.

URBANA

Women, if you’re dismayed with the number of females studying and working in technology and are thinking of leaving the field, don’t do it, says Max Levchin, entrepreneur, investor and University of Illinois computer science graduate.

In town for the Department of Computer Science’s 50th anniversary, Levchin spoke of his time as a freshman and seeing lots of girls in his computer science lectures, but over those years the numbers would dwindle. He recalled talking to one of them and telling her, “It’s not going to get better if you leave.”

During a visit to campus this week, Levchin met with students who have their own start-up dreams and delivered a keynote address on topics ranging from women in computer science to opportunities available for those studying computer science, and he provided an update on his recent business ventures.

This is “the best time ever” to be in technology, he said. “It’s cool to be a hacker. We’re desperately under-resourced.”

Levchin said the problem of few women in technology will not correct itself overnight and he wasn’t sure what the right solution is, but what is clear is the message he thinks should be delivered to children.

“You have to start in grade school. You have to start saying this is not the boys to left, girls to the right. It’s whatever you’re passionate about,” he said.

Now the father of a girl, Levchin said he doesn’t want his daughter to be pressured into pursuing a gender-appropriate role.

“If she ever says, ‘Daddy, I want to be a computer scientist, but it’s not for girls,’ I would feel I completely screwed up as a parent.”

When people talk about female role models in engineering or computer science, many point to Ada Lovelace, a British mathematician and an early programmer, or Grace Hopper, a programmer and admiral in the Navy.

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