Future Tense

For the First Time, Women Outnumber Men in a UC-Berkeley Computer Science Course

A class at the University of Pennsylvania in 1961. Probably not what Berkeley classes look like today, except for women in the first row!

Photo from Frankly Penn.

For the first time since Berkeley started digitizing enrollment records in 1993, there are more women than men in an undergraduate introductory computer science course: 106 women, 104 men. That’s great.

This seems like remarkable progress, given that only 18.4 percent of computer science degrees awarded in 2010 went to women, according to the National Science Foundation. The gap wasn’t always so severe. Thirty-seven percent of computer science degrees went to women in 1984 and 29.6 percent in 1991.


The numbers from Berkley are heartening, though, because the school is a major recruiting ground for Silicon Valley companies. They may also suggest that adapting the curricula of introductory computer science courses can help to attract more women to the field. The Berkeley class is for nonmajors, and professor Dan Garcia, who taught the class last spring, told SFGate in an email that the course structure has undergone major changes, including emphasizing group projects and creative thinking. “Everything that turns women off, we reversed it,” Garcia said.

Not exactly the most nuanced approach to curriculum design, perhaps. Then again, the numbers suggest they’re doing at least something right.