Irene Cid, Dean of COIIPA: "Companies have the ability to sow interest in IT education among young people"
About Irene Cid
With over 20 years of experience in the STEAM sector, Irene Cid, a computer engineer, researcher and teacher at the University of Oviedo and the Department of Education, currently holds the deanship of the Official College of Computer Engineers of the Principality of Asturias (COIIPA), whose main objective is to promote computer science within the Principality and highlight the recognition of the profession.
The Official College of Computer Engineers of the Principality of Asturias is a public corporation that brings together computer engineers from Asturias, representing, organizing, protecting, helping them to train and improve, and ensuring proper professional practice.
It's been almost 20 years since you started your career, what are the main changes that the profession has undergone?
In recent years, the profession has become highly specialised. In the past, the focus in application development was more on writing code, whereas now it involves integrating third-party solutions and properly adjusting libraries and heuristics to improve those systems.
Moreover, the extensive use of information systems in various fields makes it impossible to cover everything that computer science entails in a single study. Nowadays, we find professionals with a strong generic foundation who specialise in different technologies within their discipline. This requires professionals to engage in continuous and demanding learning, which needs to be properly managed.
There is a lot of specialisation. A computer professional used to be called for any job regarding the sector, but now, over the course of their professional career, they specialise in certain technologies, and employers seek out specialists in those areas. Additionally, technology is constantly changing, so continuous and standardised learning is now essential for computer professionals.
Women have always been underrepresented in the ICT sector, what do you think is the reason for this?
For me, there are two fundamental factors. The first one has to do with traditional education. Based on my own experience, I believe that women tend to prefer activities where they feel their work helps others, as opposed to a more masculine model where competition and achieving top positions come into play quickly. In my opinion, the field of computer science is seen more as a competitive world that values faster systems and more efficient protocols, and the capacity for social assistance it offers, such as systems that adapt medication to each patient through data analysis, projects capable of detecting suicide situations like the one developed by Ana Freire, or systems used by different organizations to assist students with sensory disabilities in accessing content, is not highlighted enough. Eradicating this scenario that encompasses computer science, it is important to showcase the role this field plays in social assistance and well-being.
In real computer science, teamwork is crucial, and effective and positive communication is highly important
Another important factor has to do with the stereotypes often used in visual media when referring to computer science, which are far from the reality of development teams in companies. In these media, the representation of women with whom one can identify is often scarce, and the image of a boy behind a computer, who is uncommunicative and lacking empathy, using technical jargon, is used. This image is very damaging. In real computer science, teamwork is crucial, and effective and positive communication is highly important. It is essential to highlight these values of the profession.
What measures are being taken in education to change this trend? Do you think they are sufficient?
In recent years, we have seen an increase in the dissemination of STEAM areas in schools, while multidisciplinary projects that integrate the use of ICT are being implemented. Additionally, the new law, LOMLOE, with its focus on learning situations rather than traditional study units, attempts to introduce the importance of applying different knowledge areas.
In my opinion, both of these initiatives are significant advances. However, I reckon that these two efforts must be accompanied by teachers with sufficient ICT skills to implement them correctly, and in Asturias, no action has been taken to incorporate such professionals into secondary education.
On the other hand, the new law has removed the subject of computer science from its curriculum, so students may be motivated to choose this career path after a motivational talk, but they do not have a real understanding of what this field entails, as they might have with mathematics and other subjects. This could result in dropouts in the first year of studies. In this context, trends in the education sector are changing, but there is still a long way to go, especially in terms of implementing these changes effectively.
What do you think businesses can do to support these measures?
From the companies in the sector, I believe it is important to continue supporting team-building activities, as well as more practical ones such as workshops, lectures, or discussions that reach students, paying special attention to female representation. Showing the ability to do innovative things that the company can do and making them aware of the diversity of talents required to achieve this innovation, so that they want to be part of those projects. Companies have the ability to sow interest in the younger generation and participate in their training through a practical approach to the IT environment.
Within the company, in order to avoid the limitations that daily work may pose, activities that promote communication between different teams and roles always help to avoid stereotypes that fall apart when you truly get to know the people behind the multidisciplinary teams.
Who have been your references in the IT world throughout your professional career? Why?
My true role models have always been those close to me. As a studious but indecisive teenager, meeting my computer science teacher, Daniel Villanueva, was crucial in considering this subject as my future path. Later, in college, where there was much emphasis on mathematics and programming, having Martin as my professor was fortunate. Thanks to his classes, I was able to start mastering programming and solving more interesting problems. Moreover, as my project supervisor, he instilled in me an interest in research.
Sometimes the final optimal solution involves not searching for the most optimal one at each step
Other role models in my professional sphere have been J. Daniel Salas and Jose Antonio Blanco, my first project managers who helped me optimise my time for tasks assigned, and understood that sometimes the final optimal solution involves not searching for the most optimal one at each step. And many others, colleagues who shared their work and experiences, etc.
Now, in my research, Demis Hassabis is a global role model, who through his work in computationally reproducing the neurological systems involved in human learning, is one of the pioneers who has revolutionized this discipline of computer science.