Campus professor responds to former Google employee’s memo about diversity in technology

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Campus professor David Patterson published an essay Friday in response to former Google employee James Damore’s memo, in which Damore stressed that women are biologically different and not suited to working in technology companies like Google.

Damore’s memo, which generated a lot of controversy when it surfaced in August, stated that Google has mistakenly made gender representation a priority.

In the essay, Patterson, along with Maria Klawe and John Hennessy, highlighted four main points in rebuttal to Damore’s memo, concerning why women are underrepresented in computer science, why diversity in the field is important and how to improve diversity in the future.

The three authors mentioned that they have seen women thrive under their guidance as faculty and administrators. Patterson is a professor in the electrical engineering and computer sciences department, or EECS, on campus.

“Biology doesn’t explain anything,” Patterson said. “Despite (Damore’s) cherry-picking of scientific results, science disagrees with want he wants to say.”

According to Patterson, since computer science courses are popular on campus, a variety of students enroll in courses. Patterson added that courses such as CS10 and CS61A are good opportunities for students to gain coding experience.

“Computer science is becoming an extraordinarily popular major,” Patterson said. “Berkeley is a diverse campus, and what’s happening with popularity is that the field is getting more diverse. All of us in the field who have been here a long time think that’s just wonderful.”

Gresshaa Mehta, the president of FEMTech — a student organization dedicated to supporting women in their careers in technology — said in an email that Damore’s memo is a reminder of why a club like FEMTech must exist.

Mehta added in an email that the Berkeley faculty and students are aware of the “toxic culture” in Silicon Valley and in the EECS department on campus, and the community is working towards creating an inclusive and diverse setting.

Armando Fox, the faculty adviser for the CS Scholars Program, said numerous programs, such as CS Scholars, exist on campus to improve gender and ethnic diversity.

“It is important for me to understand that I am not a minority in computing. That means I have not had the experience that women or African Americans or other minorities had,” Fox said. “Just listening to what I had to say would not help.”

Fox said he finds it beneficial to listen to students in CS Scholars Program and their experiences interacting with faculty. Fox also added he regularly invites women and underrepresented minorities in the EECS field to give technical talks in addition to talking about their struggles in the field.

According to Mehta, various female engineering students approach FEMTech to share their experiences of being isolated in the computer science community.

“Clearly, we have different concentrations of people who live in their own bubbles of belief in Berkeley and it’s up to all of us as a community to make the department more inclusive,” Mehta said in an email. “It’s a slow process but I like many others on campus, believe we can combat the toxicity.”

Ananya Sreekanth covers higher education. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @asreekanth_dc.