By any measure, Facebook’s Jocelyn Goldfein is successful.
“I feel really lucky, I feel luckier than most people,” she told Business Insider.
As a director of engineering for Facebook, she is one of the tech industry’s highest-profile engineers. Her teams are responsible for key Facebook features like News Feed, search, and photos. Before that, she was a power player at VMware, joining when it had about 350 employees and staying seven years through its growth to more than 10,000 people. At one point, she managed 400 of them.
The fact that she’s a woman makes her doubly visible. That’s because even though computer science is a hot career, women are ignoring it. Less than 12 percent of computer science degrees earned in 2010-11 were awarded to women and that percentage has declined over the past couple of decades.
Goldfein, 37, believes that the reason women don’t go into the field is misperception. There’s some cultural pressure that makes girls think they aren’t smart enough.
“I feel like so many people are missing out on what’s an amazing career because they get themselves psyched out,” she told Business Insider. “The reality is programming is not that hard. If you can do high school algebra, you can do programming.” (Goldfein qualifies that as applying to “most of what we do”; there’s obviously higher-level math involved in some programming work, she says.)
But back in her college days, Goldfein had the same fears and doubts. She always enjoyed math but didn’t do any programming as a kid. She thought that “math and science degrees would be too hard for me,” she says, and chose computer science as a role of the dice, thinking it would be easier.
“Where did that fear come from?” she wonders today. “I had high SAT scores and got into Stanford.”
Choosing computer science was just a stroke of luck. “It was really fun. I love to do Sudoku, I like Scrabble and crossword puzzles, as I think many women do. Programming is fun in that you solve a puzzle and you make something of nothing,” she explains.
So as a mom of two young daughters, ages 4 and 7, she’s taking her role-model status seriously. Along with Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Goldfein is encouraging women to enter the computer-science field. She’ll be speaking at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference, this week in Baltimore, she’s involved with mentoring and she’s overseeing Facebook’s Grace Hopper scholarship award, which offers winners support and mentorship.
Both the award and the conference are named after Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, the pioneering computer scientist who developed the first compiler for a computing language. Hopper also coined the term “bug,” after a stray insect gummed up the works of a machine she was using.
Hopper was one of the creators of the technologies that eventually led to massive computing efforts like Facebook. Programmers like Goldfein who have followed in her footsteps get to build products that help people and change lives.
“This is on the scale of hundreds of millions of people,” Goldfein says.
What other career offers that?