Excellence in STEM with Dr. Francisco Gomes de Oliveira Neto

IEEE Computer Society Team
Published 06/14/2023
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Francisco Gomes de Oliveira NetoWe had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Francisco Gomes de Oliveira Neto, a Senior Lecturer in Software Engineering and an advocate for equity, diversity, and inclusion in computer science and engineering (CSE).

Dr. Gomes de Oliveira Neto shares his unique insights on the meaning of equity, diversity, and inclusion in the context of CSE, highlighting the barriers to inclusion he has personally experienced throughout his career.

He also shares a compelling example from his education and career experiences, emphasizing the significant impact diverse voices can have on projects.

Join us in gaining a deeper understanding of the importance of inclusivity in CSE through our Excellence in STEM series, Pride.


What is your definition and meaning of equity, diversity, and inclusion in the context of computer science and engineering?

To me, each one of those three terms has a unique meaning in the context of computer science and engineering (CSE). Equity revolves around fairness and equal opportunities which, for CSE, have a lot to do with access, awareness, and utilization of computer technology. It’s important to remember that people’s experiences with technology can differ based on their unique circumstances, and our own privileged experiences can introduce biases when designing technology. For instance, there are users that do not have access to stable Internet connection, cannot freely use their smartphones in urban spaces, or face accessibility barriers. These factors hinder the development of a positive relationship with computers. Consequently, we run the risk of perpetuating a cycle where the creators and developers of computer technology share similar privileged experiences that fail to represent a diverse society.

In my view, creating a fair society requires actively listening to individual and varied (diverse) experiences when shaping computer technology. Therefore, being inclusive means acknowledging and bringing in those diverse experiences to create opportunities for technological creativity and innovation that can truly improve our lives.


What barriers to inclusion have you experienced throughout your career?

As a gay man working in computer science academia, I navigate a very male and heteronormative environment. So, there are still challenges that I face that other underrepresented groups in academia could relate to. For instance, I do not feel comfortable attending conferences or visiting universities in countries where LGBTQ+ individuals do not feel safe or face legal restrictions.

Moreover, there are instances where I feel compelled to work harder to earn the respect of students and colleagues. Once, I heard a student calling me a homophobic slur, which led to a lot of self-blame and self-doubt that hindered my professional confidence for a long time. Sadly, I’ve also heard derogatory comments towards LGBTQ+ people in academic meetings and conference dinners. Recovering from those experiences was hard, and there is still a part of my brain that is continuously concerned about the risks of feeling triggered or disrespected that many of my heterosexual colleagues probably don’t even think about. It’s exhausting.

Thankfully, those fears and concerns come from a few isolated events (but significant enough to leave their mark). I am grateful that the respect and appreciation that I receive from most of my students and colleagues counterbalance those concerns. My conclusion is that I have much more to gain by being authentic to my LGBTQ+ identity than trying to conceal or edit aspects of my personality that clash with the heteronormative norms.


What are 1-2 ways the computing community can work together to prevent these experiences from occurring to future professionals?

Learning about those negative experiences is crucial to start preventing them. I use the term learn deliberately to emphasize the need for two essential aspects: first, we require a safe and supportive environment where individuals can openly share their experiences and be heard. Second, we must take the time to reflect and gain a deeper understanding of the underlying causes and repercussions of these experiences.

When it comes to sharing and listening to experiences about inequalities, a crucial aspect of learning is to recognize the privilege associated with those experiences. Privilege creates a stark contrast between those who possess it and those who do not, allowing us to better understand the extent of inequality. Personally, I often contemplate how my own circumstances would have unfolded if I didn’t have the advantage of male or racial privilege. This question helps me understand experiences that differ from my own and provides me with insights about the challenges faced by others.


A lack of understanding of others’ experiences may sometimes lead to unintended consequences. What recommendations can you make to the community to help them increase their understanding of your culture and/or background that would help individuals feel more welcomed?

The first recommendation would be to learn about cognitive biases. For example, being aware of survivorship biases allows me to recognize the privilege that comes with being a tenured faculty member, enabling me to take career risks that may not be accessible to non-tenured colleagues. Understanding conformity biases helped me to see why certain individuals find it easier and quicker to fit into certain environments, while I may struggle with the same process. By understanding these biases, we can better understand the disparities and dynamics at play in different situations.

My second recommendation is to learn how to be LGBTQ+ allies. There is great material from varied sources. I particularly like and recommend the Booklet on LGBTQ+ Allyship from the Royal Society of Chemistry. Learning about the topics surrounding LGBTQ+ inclusion such as: what each letter in LGBTQ+ means, understanding the meaning and implications of using preferred gendered pronouns (PGP), how to do bystander interventions, etc. Even if it sounds overwhelming, the gradual contact with that type of knowledge helps to understand the background behind individual experiences.


Can you share an example from your education or career experiences where diverse voices had, or could have had, a significant impact on a project?

During my time as an assistant professor in Brazil, I designed an assignment for a programming course where students needed to implement a software system for hospital management. In this system, users could register patients, their health records, and different medical procedures. One of these procedures was a gender-affirming surgery (GAS) aiming to bring awareness to: (i) the distinction between biological sex and gender identity, and (ii) how to properly represent gender in software systems.

When I was an undergraduate student at the same university, I often witnessed my teachers and colleagues use “fixed” Boolean variables (i.e., that can only assume two values: true or false) to represent a person’s “gender” in databases or programs. They believed it was a memory-efficient approach. However, this suggestion was not inclusive and discriminated against LGBTQ+ individuals.

Considering Brazil’s conservative nature, the assignment received mixed reactions from colleagues and students. Ultimately, I got a lot of support from my co-teacher in the course, as she also saw the educational value of using this assignment. It was truly gratifying to witness the ensuing discussions among nearly 100 students as they explored ways to promote inclusivity from the very beginning of software development during the specification and design phase.


Given the importance of computer science and engineering becoming and being a more diverse and inclusive community, we strive to hear the perspectives of persons from equity-seeking populations. What are 1 or 2 ways such diverse perspectives and experiences can be solicited and heard without making the persons who share them feel tokenized or otherwise uncomfortable?

My view is that those soliciting should start leading by example. Trust is crucial to building relationships where it feels comfortable to share experiences. I would not share my experience with others if I didn’t trust that others would genuinely listen and care. The way to lead by example is for those in positions of power to start sharing their success (and failure) experiences, while acknowledging the role of privilege in those stories (positive accountability). Bringing those privileges and inequalities into the light helps to contrast experiences, identify the gap in opportunities, and start talking about how to bridge that gap.


Learn more about Dr. Francisco Gomes de Oliveira Neto

Francisco Gomes de Oliveira Neto is a Senior Lecturer in Software Engineering at Chalmers and the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. His mission is to foster curiosity and interest in software engineering. Francisco earned his PhD in computer science from the Universidade Federal de Campina Grande in Brazil. His research focuses on the intersection of software engineering and machine learning, specifically applied to areas such as software visualization, automated software testing, and software development bots.

Additionally, Francisco serves as an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) officer at the Computer Science and Engineering department, where he works with EDI projects to empower minorities in academia. Francisco’s commitment to creating inclusive study environments has been recognized through two Pedagogical Prizes awarded to him in 2019 and 2021. Moreover, he was honored with the Equality Award from Chalmers in 2022 for his work with the Girls Code Club, a coding bootcamp that teaches programming to high school girls.