Before last year, I do not think I knew or had heard of Ada Lovelace, patroness of girl geeks everywhere and often credited as being the world’s first computer programmer. Tonight I attended another monthly Montreal Girl Geek Dinner. This month us girl geeks did things a little differently. Instead of a female entrepreneur or speaker, we all gathered, mingled and told stories about our female “geek” role models (or lack thereof).
A couple weeks ago I attended Geekfest Montreal which brought together all sorts of geeks, though primarily various gaming types. At Geekfest there was a panel on “where are all the girl geeks” which included Tanya (the chief organizer for GGD). One of her comments was how for many of us female geeks, men are the gateway to geekdom (or fandom) . Fathers, brothers, boyfriends, they’re often the ones showing us the way into the tech world. I know that is true of me with my dad having dragged my brother and I across the border a couple times a month (at least) to hit various computer shows so he could pick up bits and pieces to build the computers we used.
My mother, however, is the reader (and writer) in the family. She says we get our love of reading from her since she read to us while still in the womb. If SHE hadn’t passed that reading love onto my brother, HE wouldn’t have passed on the sci-fi to me, and the sci-fi wouldn’t have kept me interested in technology and science as it did, despite that I’m not directly involved with it. So, while I didn’t have a woman geek role model, I had a good combo between a tech dad and reader mom.
At GGD tonight I did mention how teachers were important to me growing up. In particular I thought of Mrs. Pearl Bradd who was my grade 10 science teacher and also the teacher in charge of the environment club. If it wasn’t for her I might not have attended an environmental talk by Roberta Bondar when she visited another local high school. Of course at that age I knew I couldn’t be an astronaut, but just seeing Dr. Bondar as a successful scientist gave me confidence in my science studies (I did complete my OACs in Chem & Bio, though dropped out of Physics eventually). From my experience, women “geeks” just aren’t as visible or as known as some others, and that is why women around my age may have not had a female geek role model. I also know some female engineers and programmers who try to downplay the fact that they are in a male dominated career; they usually like to pretend they’re just one of the guys.
One woman at the dinner tonight did take the mic near the end (we were passing it around), and said that it is up to us now to spread our stories whether through blogs, Twitter, websites or speaking engagements, to encourage girls to go ahead and jump into technology. I may work in a female dominated profession, but I’m all for supporting girls and women in whichever field they wish to pursue. (I also have a story about nearly failing grade 12 computer science which changed my outlook on sci-tech…but maybe another day).
So, just to help spread the word about notable women and girl geeks, take a look at http://www.latebloomerstories.com/ a blog devoted to women who decided to take roundabout ways into nontraditional careers (written by Belinda Darcey who was also at the GGD tonight).
And for those, like me, who know little about Ada Lovelace, check out this Stuff You Missed in History blog post & podcast, “Don Juan and the Enchantress of Numbers” (also shared by a woman at the Girl Geek Dinner tonight)