Shatner on the future of microchips

AT&T recently published a lot of videos from their archives. I particularly like this video with William Shatner discussing the magic of the microchip. In hindsight, its view of the future is revealing.

First, it’s still a good introduction to how chips are produced. It shows an automated test machine, wire-bonding, and hand-soldering boards. It also shows microscopic views of a 5 micron circuit and a nice animation of clock pulses and gates. All of these processes are basically the same today, just more sophisticated.

On the flip side, its prediction about the computerization of telephones revolutionizing society has come and gone. Wired telephones connected to smart central computers have been surpassed by smart cellphones.

This video also reminded me how there once were more women in technology. Computer science was originally considered a branch of math, and women have often excelled at mathematics. When this video was made in 1980, women made up about 41% of computer science freshmen. That had dropped to about 12.5% by 2007. If you look at the graph from that article, it seems that women participated almost equally in the early 80’s computer craze but sat out the Dotcom boom.

I’m still not sure about all the causes of this, but it is a troubling trend. Any time half of your intelligence sits on the bench, you’re going to be at a disadvantage to other countries. Some studies have shown Chinese women have a more positive view of computers than other cultures. Additionally, all enrollment in computer science is lower as a percentage than at any time since the 1970’s.

What can be done to increase interest in computer science among all students and especially women?

5 thoughts on “Shatner on the future of microchips

  1. I think it’s the anti-nerd/geek sentiments that separate most girls from these boys during middle and high school. The Columbine High School massacre was central to these anti-geek movements, and thus the geek/nerd and “violent” video-game cultures were ostracized heavily around the world.

    Perhaps if handguns had been illegal in Colorado (and perhaps the entire US) from the 1990s on, then we would have a higher ratio of girls to boys in our computer industry. Perhaps that, because of AP and Reuters dominant media, the UK and Canada was affected similarly. However, Asia (including India) was not.

    You’ll also notice no shortage of homosexual, bisexual, and transgendered that work in the technology field or become involved in computer-related degreed programs.

    I have an idea. Instead of postulating about why this has occurred, we should primarily work to fix it. The main reason women are not present is because women are not promoted (and men don’t know how to properly promote them). If there are women in your user group or at your workplace, get them involved in thought leadership, such as presenting at informal events, conferences, etc — and writing, doing blogs, videos, et al. Technology training budgets should primarily be used to pay for our female thought leaders to attend events/conferences as speakers. Workplace/ethics training/curriculum budgets should primarily focus on women’s issues.

    The age where women get separated from tech fields is around age 13. While I’m unsure why this is (my only theory is the anti-geek Columbine one) — it can’t hurt to put female technology thought leaders in front of them a few times per year. Middle/high schools need to prioritize this.

    There is also a major issue with women working in technology: the maternity leave process. Women feel that they can’t keep up with work and “technological changes” that occur during a time when there is no way that they can concentrate on either of these things. Microsoft created an equalizer — the paternity leave process — and said that both men and women get 1 year of it. However, what people need isn’t just equality — they need to make up for that lost time. A “maternity buddy” is a non-manager coworker/friend to the person on leave who can summarize daily and weekly activities and “keep the new mom or dad in the loop”. However, I think we need to go further because teams who have lost an important individual contributor or manager to a temporary-leave must also cope with the temporary-loss. Note that this could also be due to a person on short-term or long-term disability because of an accident. Every team should have the right human resources planning and procedures in place — and technology teams certainly have more advanced needs.

    1. I like your suggestions for improving this. I think mentoring and better family leave assistance could be good changes.

      I agree it’s harder to understand the exact causes of there being fewer women in technology. However, I don’t get your middle paragraphs about handguns or LGBT people in computing. It doesn’t seem to follow from the rest of your post.

  2. The percentage-wise count may have dropped a lot, but the absolute numbers are surely far higher.

    I don’t think this is a gender issue or problem with CS. It’s the same for engineering and other such subjects, not many women. I think it’s a Western economics issue. It’s socially acceptable to spend a lot of money on a university degree that won’t get you a high paid job in the west (history, arts etc). In places like the FSU or China the economic outcome of your education matters far more and you see way more women doing science/engineering subjects there. Most of the female engineers I work with are either asian or from eastern Europe. Not many from America, UK, France etc.

    Basically I think women are more likely than men to do easy subjects when there’s no parental pressure to do hard ones. I don’t know why.

    1. There was a study I recall that seemed to show women preferred socially meaningful jobs, even at some loss in income.

      I do think our country’s wealth and opportunity mean most educated people can make just as much money as a lawyer versus an engineer.

      However, my main concern is that the percentage of women in CS has declined since the early 80’s. As an engineer, I consider CS to be one of the best uses of talent and all other careers are inferior. ;-)

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