Ultimate Frisbee in CS World

(I had to dedicate this post to Özgür in order not to be a muddy woman… ask him, not me).

I joined the ultimate frisbee team after two months I started university. I must admit, I was expecting to meet people majoring in fields other than computer science since nearly all people I knew at school were in my class. Things didn’t work out as I planned though (no offense pls) (I love my teammates) (seriously, I do): 1 out of 4 people I met were computer engineers. We have over 30 people in our team, last year 8 of them were computer engineers, this semester we had 4 outgoing but 5 incoming CS people!

At first I thought this was a coincidence since computer engineers form a large part of the population of my school. They could be anywhere.

However, I saw that this was not a coincidence at all when I attended a Google Tech Talk. They didn’t mention anything about ultimate in the talk, but guess what they gave us at the end as presents together with Google pens, Android toys etc:

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(I took like 5 and ran away lol)

That was when I started to wonder why computer engineers are inclined towards ultimate. I first thought why am playing it in the first place and I came up with some answers but before, I feel like I should talk about the sport a little because something tells me you are thinking “duh, because frisbee throwing is not an actual sport and computer engineers are not athletic”.

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oooh snap

If  you are seriously thinking this, it clearly shows you don’t know anything about this sport and you didn’t see my athletic, agile engineer teammates. I bet they would beat (most of) you in a running race.

 

Ultimate frisbee is an actual team field sport generally played with 7 people in each team. Points are scored when one team catches the disc in the opposing team’s end zone. The player holding the disc must maintain a pivot point and he cannot “travel” with the disc, he may only advance the disc to the end zone only by passing. If a pass is defensed (“D’d”), incomplete or caught out of bounds, the opposing team gains possession and tries to score in the opposing direction. The field must be 100 m to 37 m, which makes it a pretty big field especially when there are many “turn over”s in a game and you have to continuously run from one end zone to the other. (thanks Wikipedia)

One interesting thing about ultimate is that the game is self-refereed. The quality of the game relies entirely on the honesty and knowledge of the rules of the players. Ideally no player intentionally violates the rules and stays respectful while discussing the calls. This is called Spirit of the Game. SotG is very important in ultimate. In tournaments we have two awards, one is for the winner of the games and the other is for the SotG.

Here is a highlights video (women) for you:

So… why CS people like to play ultimate?

IMHO, the main reason why CS people fall in love with this sport is that computer scientists are lazy people. I used this word as a compliment though. A computer engineer always finds the easiest way to accomplish tasks and solve problems (that’s what we have been doing throughout this blog). In order to play ultimate, you have to be both athletic AND clever, else you would be running around without any meaning. You have to learn to read the disc, which means you should figure out where to run in order to read the disc, especially while catching a deep throw. You have to take the wind, the speed and the spin of the disc into account. This becomes so much fun once you learn.

Ultimate is a sport with very clear rules, so clear that if two players disagree on a call, the rule book tells them exactly how to proceed. This is also very similar to how computers (and eventually, computer scientists’ brains) process the tasks: when you give a clear, step by step algorithm, the computer/brain functions perfectly. The clarity of the rules also appeal the CS people.

What makes ultimate stand out from the other sports is SotG, and I think that is the main reason why I love ultimate very much. I like honesty and integrity and I cannot stand watching sports without real fairplay. I also like to solve problems without any aggressiveness. From what I have observed so far, nearly all CS people are also patient and calm.

I will finish this post with a Microsoft interview question:

“How many Ultimate Frisbee players are there in United States?”

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Women in Computer Science

I would like to start my first blog post by telling you about my role model in computer science. Margaret Hamilton was the director of the Software Engineering division in MIT, which developed software for the Apollo space program in 1960. She and her engineering team also wrote the code for the world’s first portable computer. The astronauts landed on the moon and returned safely back home thanks to them. This was a decade before Microsoft, back in a time when computer programming meant punching holes in punch cards. Hamilton states her work as “Wild West” because nobody was there to teach it.

Just imagine how hard she had to work.

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Margaret Hamilton standing next to the actual Apollo Guidance Computer source code (cutest photo in CS!)

 

As in today, computer science was a male dominated field in 1960 so it was no surprise for Margaret Hamilton to be an outcast as a working mother. She once said she was just one of the guys at the lab.

But even in 1960s, when women were way more passive in the society than today, there were plenty of women as pioneers in computer science. Today we only hear about Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or other male pioneers. I have always wondered why this is the case.

In the past weeks I came across a podcast called “When Women Stopped Coding” and it enlightened me in so many ways. Please listen to it before continuing with reading:

http://www.npr.org/player/embed/356944145/357036571(I will still give a summary though. Ha ha.)

I think the graph shown below is very interesting and sad:

graph

I am actually surprised by this result. Before seeing this graph,  I thought the computer science curve was always increasing, but not as steep as the others. Also, I thought physics and other engineering fields should have had similar curves with the computer science one.

From the graph, we can see in 1984 so many women gave up on computer science. The drastic change in the graph is very unusual since there was no sudden quota or restriction on women.

Then why is this graph true? 

The turning point of the graph corresponds to the time when personal computers started showing up in U.S. homes. These computers were marketed almost entirely to men. If there was a woman in the ad, she would surely be in her bikinis.

For example, check out this Commodore SX-64 ad.

(I was wrong, there is another woman besides the one in bikini. She is, of course, preparing dinner for her husband!)

In movies, the main character was always an awkward geek boy who used technology to fight the enemies and win the girl. Families tended to buy computers for boys, even if the girls were sometimes more interested in computers.

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(lol jk)

This led to a secret prerequisite for taking programming courses. The guys seemed to know everything the professor had to say because they were already used to working with computers and they even did programming at home. Therefore, the professors assumed that the students knew about computers and refused to teach the basics to the ones lacking PCs (mostly women, as you could probably guess). Then the women started to drop out.

Today, the coding societies try to get more women by giving scholarships, free lessons or special programs. However, the number of women in computer science continues to decrease. I guess this is because society still has the impression that it is a tough job for women. In their opinion, women should take care of the household instead of coding sleeplessly for hours. Also in Turkey, if a woman says she wants to be an engineering student, people will immediately ask her what they will do in a classroom full of men, tell them it is a man’s job, they should try to be teachers or doctors, etc.

I am very lucky to have my mother as a computer engineer because even when people told me I should give up on computer science (you would not believe how many times this has happened to me, by the way) I have always had a living example of a woman who succeeded in her career.

I hope someday at least half of the CS classrooms will be women (…and the world will live as one).

WE CAN DO IT!

Source:

  1. Margaret Hamilton
  2. When Women Stopped Coding