Jocelyn Goldfein, Facebook Engineer, Explains Why It Matters There Aren't More Girl Geeks

Facebook Engineer Explains Why It Matters There Aren't More Girl Geeks

Jocelyn Goldfein has a simple reason for wanting to increase the number of female engineers: She’s tired of meetings where she’s surrounded entirely by men.

"Personally, I care that there aren’t more women in tech because I love most aspects of my job, and the one thing I don’t love is often being the only woman in the room," said Goldfein, director of engineering at Facebook. "I would just enjoy my job more if there were more women."

Goldfein has not only worked on some of Facebook’s best-known products, such as Questions, Photos, and the revamped News Feed, but she also helps hire people for the social networking site’s expanding army of engineers.

The latter role has illustrated for Goldfein the urgency of encouraging women to specialize in technical fields. She says she can’t find enough engineers to meet her staffing needs, a problem she argues could be remedied if more women pursued computer science degrees.

"As someone who spends a lot of time hiring engineers for Facebook, I can tell you there are not enough qualified software engineers in this country -- or probably on this planet -- for my needs," Goldfein said. "And as it happens, we’re missing half of our computer science majors. If you look at the gender divide, women are taking 60 percent of bachelor's degrees, but presently they represent at most 20 percent of computer science majors."

Doing so doesn’t require momentous societal shifts, or aggressive programs targeted at girls in elementary school, according to Goldfein. Her proposal: introduce female undergraduates to computer science courses early in their college careers. Goldfein notes that she’s spoken to many students who discovered an interest in engineering only after it was too late for them to switch their majors.

"If I could shift that to freshman year and those women could have that epiphany in time, that’d make a huge difference," she said. "A lot of people think you have to begin with pre-adolescents and four year olds. But I think it’s not too late to influence women entering college now and try to show them that this can be a great career for them."

In an attempt to woo more undergraduates to give engineering a try, the social network has experimented with targeting freshman students with Facebook ads promoting computer science courses at their universities.

In an interview for The Huffington Post’s Women in Tech series, Goldfein shared her take on why there aren't more female engineers, what mistakes some women make in their careers, how social media can change the ways women think about technology, and more.

Why do you say you don’t love being the only woman in the room?Sometimes it subjectively feels lonely. I think anytime you’re the only one, you can feel singled out. You can feel like, "If I say something dumb, am I letting down all of womankind because all women will be judged by my representation?" I’d rather just be representing for myself, thank you.

What’s the secret to increasing the number of women in tech?I’ve come to basically believe this is a self-fulfilling prophecy: The reason there aren’t more women in computer science is that there aren’t very many women in computer science. You look into a computer science classroom and see mostly men and think, "Oh, this classroom is not for me. I’m going to go find a class that has more people that look more like me."

Yes, it would be wonderful to have great social change -- it would be wonderful to read books to my children that don’t have all male doctors and all female nurses – but I don’t think we need to solve that to solve this problem.

I think all we need to do is hold up enough great examples of the phenomenal women who are in tech and inspire the next set of girls. They don’t have to look around and see 50 percent women, they just have to see enough people like themselves that they can imagine themselves there.

Are there mistakes that up-and-coming female engineers make that their male counterparts do not?It’s hard to say there’s one quality I’d ascribe to all female engineers, but as a general rule I think that women can be less confident. They’re more apt to question themselves.

It’s classic that men are going to negotiate harder for a position and role than women do and I’ve seen that play out. It’s classic that men assert all the credit for the things they did, whereas women will say that they should share the credit or that they’re lucky.

And there’s good reason for that -- we have lots of good sociological evidence that suggests if men do that it’s seen as confidence, but if women do it, it’s seen as arrogance or bitchiness. So I think women have learned that behavior not because they’re not capable or confident, but because they’ve been in an environment where we have to negotiate that. You have to negotiate what it takes to be liked while being self-confident.

What advice do you give to the aspiring women who you work with?The advice I give a lot of women is "fake it till you make it." I give it to men and women and I think it’s universally applicable. Sometimes you will be over your head, but the act of trying and the act of putting yourself outside of your comfort zone, and trying something you’re not sure you’re capable of, is what it takes to become capable of it.

Women find "fake it till you make it" comforting because it says, "try anyway."

Netscape co-founder and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen told Fortune recently, "Our industry historically … do we produce products initially aimed primarily at men or women? You'd have to say men." Do you agree?I think definitely there have been male-oriented interests that have driven technology forward. There have also been also gender-neutral interests that have driven technology forward. It is interesting and really true that in the last five years, we are seeing more and more things that are female first, which are being led by women’s interests. I think that’s tremendously interesting and good for the world.

How does social media have the potential to change the way women think about tech?I think it’s fair to say that social media -- and other forms of technology, too -- have turned women into power users of technology and power consumers of it.

There are all kinds of places where women are claiming their place as the power users of technology. That creates a place for women as entrepreneurs as well. Increasingly, as the next wave of really successful startups will be social media-based, I think you’ll see more room for female leaders creating those companies and creating those experiences.

Her indispensable gadget: Mini Cooper S

Her favorite app: Glitch

Her favorite Facebook Subscription: Ben Horowitz

Her "required reading" recommendation: How Does Biology Explain the Low Numbers of Women in Computer Science? It Doesn't.

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