The Girl at the Keyboard

Women in technology are changing the face of just who can be called a geek

Feature by Alex Cole | 26 Apr 2010
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Maybe it’s a sign that things are getting better, that dreams, ambitions and idols don’t have to involve fashion and fancy clothes. That said, at the end of the day, it’s still a Barbie doll that works in tech support, complete with a laptop, binary-code t-shirt and a well-maintained mane of blonde hair. Because, of course, that’s how Barbie rolls. Released this year, this occupation is a huge departure from Barbie’s other CV entries, and may reflect the reality of just who is behind the MacBook Pro these days.

She has a lot to learn from the first real programmer, Ada Lovelace, who was this year voted the most influential woman in media and technology, and was honoured with a day commemorating her works and legacy on March 24th. She is widely credited with writing the world’s first computer programs, as well as avoiding the annoying hurdle of angry beta testers and competing against Google. Her nomination was the result of a massive group effort and interest to promote the involvement of women in science, engineering, and technology.

Last month, the group Girl Geeks Scotland held a dinner in Glasgow, their third this year after Edinburgh and Dundee, highlighting both the challenges of women in the world of technology and social media, as well as the rising trend that, in fields of computer science, social media, technology and programming, the stereotype that all geeks look like Moss from the IT crowd is going away, and fast.

Despite the successes of women making a massive impact in technology fields, society has been slow to drop the idea of all techies as rotund basement-dwellers with a keyboard covered in Dorito dirt. According to Martha Lane Fox, the massively successful technology evangelist, "We haven't set the ambition enough in this country to turn a whole generation of women into technologists and scientists." The numbers agree with her: in the UK, women represent 18.2% of undergraduates in computing and 22.3% of post-graduates.

Ultimately, however, groups like Girl Geeks will win out precisely because of what they work with: the internet’s most powerful ability is to democratize everyone’s voice, no matter who they are. It’s a medium that cares more for what’s being said than who’s saying it. In this arena, tech-support Barbie beats fashion model Barbie every time.