The Computer Science industry today is largely dominated by men. But Katherine Spalding is hoping the change that.
“I think, a while ago, there used to be almost even women and men in Computer Science, and it’s been a downward trend for a while. Finally, it seems like people are really pushing for women to go into all STEM subjects, science, technology, engineering, math. That’s been really fun to see,” she says.
“It’s something I’m personally really passionate about,” she continues. “Women just aren’t encouraged really to do it. Not that people are saying no you can’t, they’re just not telling them, why don’t you try it.”
Spalding is the exception to the rules in many ways, most obvious being that she will be graduating in December with a degree in Computer Science; in 2014 only 18 percent of Computer Science degrees were awarded to women, according to the Washington Post.
Also, she’ll be graduating a semester early. And she’s already landed a job in her field.
She declared her major in Computer Science as soon as she stepped onto campus, and she hasn’t looked back.
This past summer, Spalding completed an internship with FedEx. She was one of four interns — and the only female — working on coding to help monitor the company’s test servers.
“We ended up seeing it up and running by the time we left,” she says. “That was really, really fun, to have that experience and to see them actually catch a few things because of this thing that we interns made.”
Two weeks after classes started for the Fall Semester, Spalding got a call from FedEx asking her to interview for a job. She aced the interview and will begin working for FedEx upon graduating.
“My title is Associate Programmer Analyst,” she explains. “I’ll be working with the package tracking system, so it’s a really important system and something I know nothing about. It will be an adventure learning how all this stuff works. But I’m excited. Nervous excited.”
She credits her experiences at Western for helping prepare her for her future career. Computer Science professor Dr. John Peterson hosts weekly “Nerd Nights” for his students at the Savage Library on campus, where students can work together to write codes and programs, ask questions and help each other solve problems, which is something that she doesn’t believe she would have experienced at a larger university. At Western collaboration is valued over competition.
Nerd Nights also teach students to communicate effectively about their programs, which Spalding notes is key to being successful in the field.
“It allowed you to really understand what it’s like to work with people and talk to them about your program and explain what your problems are, and that really helped with my internship especially,” she says. “It gave a more social aspect to it, which is something not a lot of people realize with Computer Science — you have to be able to talk to people. If you can’t communicate what you’re writing in your code, it’s basically useless when someone else tries to pick it up.”
Though Spalding admits she’s not the most social person, the relationships she’s cultivated at Western have made all the difference in her education. Having professors who care and who want to see their students succeed means a more hands-on approach to learning.
“If you have conflicts, professors will work with you, especially if they know you and know you will work hard,” she observes. “There’s a lot more flexibility and freedom in your education, and you get to decide what you want your education to be.”
Written by Laura Anderson and photo by Taylor Ahearn, University Communications