European Women’s Informatics Olympiad, a recipe against the gender gap | technology
The European Women’s Computing Olympiad was recently established in 2021 to encourage girls to code as teenagers. It opened in Zurich and this year was staged in Antalya, Turkey. Global statistics do not speak well of women’s representation in the programming world. Nearly 92% of people working as software developers around the world are men, according to data published by the Statista portal. In Spain, before the pandemic, there were 9.3% of female developers, according to a study by consulting firm Pearson.
The European Women’s Olympiad in Informatics was born as a tool to bridge this gender gap. The 2022 edition, which took place between October 16 and 23, gathered more than 150 participants. They are between 12 and 20 years old, a requirement imposed by the organisation.
The Spanish team did a good job. Each of its four representatives received a medal: 2 silver and 2 bronze. In this type of competition, the leading countries are usually the United States, China, and some Eastern European countries. But then come Germany and the other Europeans. For this reason, the coach of the team, Blanca Huergo, highlighted the importance of the result: “The victory over Italy and Germany made us excited because it shows that we are heading in the right direction. These are countries that have performed better than Spain many times in the International Mixed Olympic Games.”
The highest score went to a representative from Georgia (a guest country although not in Europe), and at the official level, the first gold medal went to a representative from Turkey. The exercises that the contestants have to solve consist of a statement of an arithmetic programming problem. Languages such as C++, Java or Python are used. Finding the right solution is appreciated, but it also evolves quickly and the process uses very little memory. In all of this stood out the silver medalists Lucia Aparicio and Laura Mando, and the other two Spaniards who took the bronze, Adriana Aguilo and Amal Ducar. Namely, the podium is distributed according to point ranges, which usually have several contestants for each medal.
Other than metal, the important thing is to encourage girls to take an interest in programming at an early age. Spain coach Blanca Huergo understands the importance of this. He has an exceptional resume for his youth. Taught Year 3 Mathematics and Computer Science at Oxford University on a full scholarship. But she actually worked at a consulting firm (she joined at age 16), had an internship as a researcher at DeepMind and won several awards for her programming with Python.
Huergo, who started taking programming and math courses at the age of eleven, was also the only girl to win a gold medal for a long time at the Spanish Mixed Computer Olympiad. This led to her interest in competition and the founding of OIFem (Female Computer Olympiad), which aims to educate and train girls in Spain for competitions. He did so in October 2020, during one of the quarantines requested by the UK upon landing there. He spoke with the other participants in the National Mixed Olympiad and created the organization.
Huergo was elected president and began designing a class plan with coaching. On a daily basis, she talks to her students, analyzes the code they programmed, debugs and gives them instructions. “The main objective of OIFem is to create a community of programmers in Spain that connects with each other. Just as you have some friends from the football team with whom you share this hobby, it is positive to have some friends from programming with whom you share this hobby,” explains the OIFem president.
Lucia Aparicio returns excited from the competition in Antalya. And not just because of his silver medal. “It allowed me to meet other girls my age with similar tastes and spend a week with them. I competed and worked hard while also having a good time,” says the 17-year-old. In her case, she first signed up for a math competition when she was in her sophomore year. ESO, with encouragement from her teacher, is not new to this, but she stresses that this experience has distinguished her. She stresses “how easy it is to talk and get to know the other contestants.”
One of the contestants with whom the representatives of Spain made good friends is Italian Noemi Gambiracio, who won a bronze medal. He started training for programming competitions two years ago, at the age of sixteen. “This week has been amazing for me. The people you can meet in this kind of competition are a special factor. I’ve never seen an opening party that was so participatory and social.”
Enthusiasm for competition and all that surrounds it favors new girls to be interested in programming codes. “Ultimately, these things are moved a lot by word of mouth,” Huergo says. “And if a boy has a friend who competes, it is easier for him to find out and to do that too. Until now, the boys were aware of the programming competitions and this seed was missing among the girls, that there was a friend that was programmed and that the rest of the group would be encouraged later.”
In Spain, only 10% of women graduated in computer engineering in 2020, according to report data. Facts and Figures of the Spanish University System. This can give an idea of the disproportion that exists later in the workplace. Something the women’s pageants want to correct. “Ultimately, it’s about trying to translate that female representation into the world of work and the world of the university,” Huergo says.
“I didn’t know how to program before I applied to OIFem,” Lucía says. “And in these past two years I can say that it affected me a lot.” Now studying dual degree in mathematics and computer engineering. He does not know what he would like to work on, but he points in a clear direction: “It will certainly be very relevant to programming and mathematics.”
For Noemi, initiatives such as the European Women’s Olympiad in Informatics have a look that goes further: “I think these competitions are important. We are not here just to do a good ranking. We are here to remind and insist that women can try to achieve their goals and that they have the right to To succeed or fail like a man, without risking a loss of credibility.”
At OIFem they have already trained hundreds of students and have a team of 25 volunteers (including the second coach who traveled to Antalya, Izan Beltran). Huergo notes that the number of girls in regional and national competitions has grown a lot in two years. This exercise and the previous women’s silver medals in the National Mixed Olympiad. “You can see the path and the goal is that in the future we will stop needing OIFem,” the organization’s head commented. Refers to the moment when a gender balance is compensated in mixed competitions. But he acknowledges that there is still a long way to go to achieve this.
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