Girls don't care about computer science. Says who??? Throughout the day on 11 December, the CMU-Q building was teeming with women intent to disprove just that: students, alumni, faculty, mothers, and especially 94 super-engaged girls from a variety of high-schools around Doha. Officially, they were there to participate in the inaugural edition of CS4Qatar for Women, a series of workshops that expose high-school students to the real Computer Science beyond stereotypes. In addition, they came to have fun, learning about everything computational in the comfort of being among their peers. And they brought their parents ... to check us out!
The event was jump-started by Reem Al-Mansoori, e-Inclusion Manager and ICT Development at ictQatar, Qatar's telecom regulator. She highlighted the growing importance of comuting and Computer Science in Qatar and the critical role that women play in it, already. Her presentation was punctuated by personal anecdotes as a woman-computer scientist. The participants were then divided into two groups: one went to the "puzzles" workshop, where they discovered that they are already thinking like computer scientists as they solve everyday's problems (like getting out of a traffic jam) — no computer is needed to be a computer scientist! The other group went to the "Alice" workshop. There they experienced that programming is about more than writing code. They created animated stories by telling characters on the screen what to do: fun! Well, for a little bit: then they wanted to create Stories (with a capital "S") and they realized that they could make the characters behave whatever way they wanted ... through programming. After lunch, the two groups were swapped so that everybody could share in the day's full experience. While their daughters were being computer scientists, the parents were getting answers to whatever questions they had about CMU, computer science, the course load, the environment, the lifestyle, the expectations, etc.
"This was simply amazing" declared Prof. Khaled Harras, the event's organizer. The same sentiment was echoed throughout the day by participants and faculty alike. From a faculty perspective, it was a delight to see how intensely engaged these young women were. The interest was palpable and so was the desire to learn. "This was so much fun! I learned a lot today" said a participant from Al Bayyan School for Girls, who identified herself just as Maryam. "This is what I want to do after high-school" she concluded.
Like in past year, there will be a co-ed edition of CS4Qatar in mid-February 2012, to which students from every high-school in Qatar can apply.