I had the pleasure of meeting Sydney Ko when my son and I went on a tour of the University of Chicago. Part of our investigation of the school included lunch with Sydney and others from the CS Department. I thought she’d be a great STEM Girl to highlight as we head into Computer Science Education Week. I think you’ll agree.
Meet Syndey Ko
Why did you decide to study computer science?
Initially, my interest was spurred by my mother and my computer science teacher. My mother is a computer engineer from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She always encouraged me to pursue my interests in codes and tinkering from a young age. My AP Computer Science teacher also strongly influenced my decision to enter the field of Computer Science. She helped me realize that I had a strong passion for coding. These two women alone have helped me realize the significant importance of female role models in the field of Computer Science.
I continue down my path to becoming a computer scientist because I am passionate about making things more efficient. My desire for efficiency started with code; my classes taught me about algorithmic ways to execute processes in the most efficient manners, and then I began seeing life through this lens. The code empowers you to create tools to allow the processes of life to become more efficient. Technology is only as effective as its creator makes it to be, and computer science is about developing today’s computer technology to handle tomorrow’s issues.
As I’ve toured colleges with my older son who intends to major in CS, I’ve noticed that our tour groups are heavily male, usually about 80%. What is it like being a woman in your program?
While the gender gap in the field of Computer Science remains an issue, I have found that being a woman in CS can be at first frightening, but eventually extremely empowering. I initially approached my major classes with a sense of intimidation and expected my male peers to far surpass me academically; however, throughout the courses I have performed on par with my male peers and developed self-confidence, which has helped me become more self-reflective. This sense of self is what I hope to inspire others, of both genders, to find in themselves as well. Being a woman in CS has given me the opportunity to reach out to other women in CS and mentor younger women. I find these relationships incredibly rewarding and I feel supported by the many networks of women that have sprung up to empower women in CS.
It sounds like you’re working to help more girls learn about CS as a course of study or career. Tell me more about that.
Empowering women through CS is a movement that I want to continue contributing to. On campus, I have been a part of the University of Chicago’s chapter of Females Excelling More in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science (FEMMES), a student-organized group that works “to close the technology gender gap.” In February of 2015, FEMMES hosted a Code Camp that invited one hundred middle school girls to campus to participate in a daylong CS workshop. This year, I am Graphics Head and will be continuing to produce digital material as well as constructing a website for FEMMES.
Off campus, I was a teaching assistant for Girls Who Code, a national non-profit organization that works to close the gender gap in technology and engineering fields. I worked with female high school students during a seven-week intensive program encompassing computer science, algorithms, robotics, mobile development, and web design. My role was to teach, mentor, and foster an environment where the students are able to pursue their computer science passions.
What do you see yourself doing after graduation?
Post-graduation, I plan on continuing in the line of Computer Science work. While I aspire to create meaningful code and to continue to encourage women to enter computer science, I ultimately want to contribute to movements that bring Computer Science to countries that are currently less technologically developed. In an era where technology has become so saturated in developed countries, countries that simply are not technologically equipped appear to be at a large disadvantage.
What advice do you have for young women who might want to follow in your footsteps?
“Not everyone can become a great artist; but a great artist can come from anywhere.” Don’t be afraid to start something new. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t take failure as a sign of incompetence — instead take it as an opportunity to grow. Stop doubting yourself. You can do it!