I recently returned from the Ontario Celebration of Women in Computing. This event did exactly what the title describes: celebrated women in computing. Microsoft Research was a sponsor and there was high demand for their geek girl water bottles. Shortly after, I was telling a co-worker about the water bottles and we ended up discussing whether a geek girl was the same thing as a girl geek.
This may seem like a trivial discussion, but it helped me clarify something that had been picking at my brain throughout the conference. One of the ways we can encourage more girls to enter technical fields is by providing role models. When we recognize the two different types of girls who enter technical fields, we recognize the need for two different types of role models.
Sometimes, I am asked to act as a role model. Anyone who has seen me present knows I am a passionate speaker. I love having the opportunity to try and get people excited about technology and it’s capabilities. But am I the right role model? The answer, as is so often the case, is “it depends.”
I was good at math. I was told engineering was a good degree if you are good at math. I was a tom boy as a kid. So I was quite comfortable entering a field that was dominated by men and had a perception of requiring strong math skills. I was coding Choose your own adventure games on my TRS-80 computer before we ever had a computer in my classroom. I spent hours playing video games at the arcade (okay I really dated myself there didn’t I?) or playing Dungeons and Dragons. I was a geek, I just happened to be a girl. I consider myself fully qualified to inspire future geek girls!
But are there girls out there who have the potential to find their inner geek? I know there are! You don’t have to be a tomboy! You don’t have to have math as your favorite subject! You don’t have to own a 20 sided dice, in fact if you don’t even get the reference to a 20 sided dice, you can still find an amazing career in technology.
I have met some amazing girl geeks! Let’s make sure we find more of them to share as role models along with the geek girls! Let me introduce three girl geeks I have the honour of counting among my acquaintances!
Meet Marwa and Alaa from Bahrain, together they form Team Butterfly! They love nail polish and observed the constant challenge faced by others with the same passion to find a specific color. Their solution? An app that allows you to design your own custom nail polish, pick your color, select your finish: glitter, gloss, matte, and then send it to their printer to get a sample that provides just enough polish for a single application! These girls have found a way to combine their love of fashion with technology! They have also got a brilliant business idea. Which is why they took home third place at the Imagine Cup World Finals.
Meet Sage Franch (@TrendyTechie). Sage is one of the Microsoft Student Partners I work with from Dalhousie University.Her blog, Trendy Techie, is a blend of fashion and technology topics! She’s blogging about how to use the Kinect sensor one week and about Tentacular knitwear scarves the next. What’s really exciting is when she gets a chance to combine the two as she did with her post about MeU, a wearable LED display that attaches to fabric and displays custom information through your clothes.
Finally, meet Genevieve L’Esperance, who used to describe herself as a Tech Diva. She is currently a Microsoft YouthSpark ambassador but I first met her at the 4 Girls coding event in Montreal. Genevieve decided to become Microsoft certified after hearing a woman speak about a tech school she wanted to create for young women in Bangladesh with the help of Genevieve’s mom. Genevieve was only 14 at the time and jokes that she only agreed to attend the Texas conference so she could buy new cowboy boots. But when she listened to the woman and heard her express such heartfelt desire to teach girls in an area with extreme poverty, she was inspired to further pursue technology and teaching.
Since she unleashed her love for computer science and her desire to spread it, Genevieve has devoted countless hours to teaching programming to girls. She works not only to show them the skills but to convince them that the field is a viable option. She learned that in part from her mom, who worked as a model at tech trade shows before becoming a successful entrepreneur. She attempts to show girls how technology is opening doors for her with the hope she can convince them it’s not just for boys
So if you are talking to young students about careers in technology, make sure you tell the story of a geek girl and a girl geek! You never know which story will inspire the next young woman to seek out a career in technology!