Automating Admissions

The look of classrooms is changing thanks to automation.

With a manufacturing skills shortage upon us, companies are consciously working on ways to diversify the workforce. But it starts way before the human resources department. Some schools—from elementary to college level—are working on programs that make science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) attractive to girls. And now one school is finding that an automated admissions system may be the real key to fixing the STEM gender gap.

Holberton School of Software Engineering in San Francisco is using a program that is resulting in a 40% female student enrollment in one software engineering program.

Holberton is a project-based alternative to college for the next-generation of software engineers. There are no formal teachers, no lectures. The school teaches students how to learn instead of teaching tools. Students need to find information online and learn the theory by themselves, to then apply it to a project they need to build for a specific timeline.

According to an article in GoodCall, the process to apply to Holberton School is almost completely automated, and the school does not give admissions preference based on programming experience, nationality, ethnicity, social class or gender. Nevertheless, the school is enrolling many female software engineers without giving preference to anyone.

In a Q&A interview with Joseph Eckert of the Holberton School, GoodCall got more insight into how automated open admissions work and why this system is proving effective at enrolling more women into software engineering programs.

Some excerpts from the interview:

“We found automated admissions remove unconscious bias, even positive bias,” said Eckert. “ “Unconsciously, everyone tends to select people like themselves. This is not something that is easy to control because you do not think about it. However, it is a serious issue, especially in Silicon Valley, where only 12% of software engineers are women.”

It also avoids a system that could potentially backfire.

“By choosing to do positive discrimination based on gender, you also have a higher risk of selecting women who might not be meant to be software engineers – just because you want more diversity. It might seem OK in the short term, but this is really bad in the long term because some of those women won’t succeed, which may send a harmful message to the industry that women are not as good as men.”

The article goes on to say that diversity in technology, in general, is a cultural issue. As a consequence, it is going to take time to fix. But there are some important things that schools and companies can do to solve the problem, including:

  • Reaching out to more women at the beginning of the funnel. Most of girls /women do not even think about computer science being an option. Nobody told them they could do this, and they could succeed.
  • Making sure to have an environment where women feel good. Studies prove that having a school or a computer science lab full of video games and Star Trek posters does not help. At Holberton School, the school’s interior design is gender-neutral and stereotypes are actively fought.
  • Having women as role models also helps. Holberton has female mentors and the name of the school itself is in honor of Betty Holberton, who was one of the first software engineers in the world!
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