Friday, May 4, 2012

Facing Fears Head-On

I am brave. I'm a thrill seeker, a trail blazer and and adrenaline hound.  What I do for a living terrifies most individuals.  I take what other people fear and make it my bitch. I leap into the open abyss every day, armed with only two things: The hope that my training has prepared me for today, and the belief that luck will pull me out of whatever trouble I get myself into.

Image Courtesy of Lenovo Ad Campaign
That's right, I'm a computer science teacher!

Don't laugh.  It's completely true.  When I see the look of horror and dread that comes to people's faces when we talk about technology, it only reaffirms what I already know.  I'm a counter-cultural, extreme off-road educator.  I twiddle bits all day long, asking for nothing but the chance to do it again tomorrow.  I. Am. Fierce.

I see the desire in the eyes of young people everywhere.  They want to learn how to get to where I am. I see the frustration when they figure out that their parents can't help them. That's why I do what I do.  I created Thinkersmith to inspire...and most of all, to foster confidence in a generation raised by a parents who are full of technological doubt.

My name is Kiki and I am one of the FabFems.  Please join us today and share *your* story.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Making Room for Non-Trads

To properly prepare for today's blog article, you should probably first become familiar with the "brogramming" movement, the science cheerleaders, and my article on letting people be who they are.

With Mayim Bialik in D.C.
I was in Washington D.C. this weekend working the USA Science Festival with The National Girl's Collaborative Project and FabFems on behalf of my non-profit, Thinkersmith.  The experience was phenomenal. It was truly unparalleled by anything I had ever seen as far as introducing families to the fun and creativity behind science.  With over 100,000 visitors, the festival was buzzing with excitement.  Thousands of minds were absorbing positive messages about mathematics, engineering, biology, chemistry, and computer science. It was awe-inspiring.

Surrounded by such a variety of positive female role models, I thought I would take the opportunity to go spread the word about FabFems, the new site that matches girls in science with female mentors in their area.  The result was baffling. At first, I was pleasantly surprised by how many booths were being "manned" by women.  Next, I was disappointed to find that many of them described themselves as being "just in HR" or "volunteering with a friend", disavowing any relationship to science themselves.

Those who *were* scientists kept telling me "Oh, no, I'm not really in the sciences...I'm just a math teacher." or "I'm not actually a scientist, I'm a psychologist."  I even heard one lady say "I'm not a scientist, but I write books about science, is that okay?" After reassuring these women that they had a valid relation to STEM, I handed them my info and suggested that they sign up as mentors so that they might inspire a young girl to someday believe that her contribution to STEM is also valid.  

My normal attire
As I was walking back to the "Girl Zone" (sponsored by the NGCP) my focus was distracted by super-sparkly cleavage.  Confused, I continued to look; trying to make sense of this group of bosoms being flaunted to a convention center full of young children.

Before I go further, it feels important to mention that when it comes to STEM conventions, I usually have the most exposed chest in the room -- I have no problem wearing low collars, as long as it remains age-appropriate and doesn't get to the point of becoming a distraction.

Science Cheerleaders
These ladies, however, would have made J-Lo blush!  Clad in deeply cut v-necks, short shorts, and more make-up than the late Tammy Faye Bakker, the women had attracted a ring of fathers so big that it was difficult to see what experiments were being offered. A brief chat with the cheerleaders showed me that they were a group of female scientists who were playing these characters as a method of trying to excite and entice young girls to follow their career paths.

Judgements not yet formed, I thanked them for the chat and headed back to my booth. As it turns out, these ladies have been all-but rejected from the female scientific community in an effort not to replace one stereotype for another.

Example Brogrammer Meme
The same thing appears to be happening with the Brogrammer movement.  Brogrammers have caught a lot of flack lately for their unabashed flaunting of a testosterone-filled irreverence. Fortunately, these guys don't actually exist as a corporately encouraged entity as various videos and articles would suggest.  Instead, these mythical creatures were dreamed up as another example of meme, such as the Sir and the more recent Ridiculously Photogenic Guy. Any geek worth her (or his) salt would take a look at the evidence and detect the farce instantly.  The media blitz generated by the misunderstanding, however, was very real.

This spinning vortex of extremity went a long way toward exploding my mind over the weekend.  When asked about my opinion of these radical groups, I had to defer my answers.  On one hand, I am such a big fan of supporting non-traditional individuals in any field.  On the other, I'm appalled by the perpetuation of a woman being most prized as eye-candy.  (Another honesty side note: I most likely only feel that way because I don't fit into the eye-candy stereotype and I want to be prized, too.)

Finally, I came to peace with my answer.  If brogrammers existed as a group, I would hope that their derogatory attitudes wouldn't be accepted in any workplace anywhere.  The practices being heralded as brogramming basics would make for sloppy and unsuccessful coding practice, and their kind wouldn't last in a start-up world anyhow.  Attitude aside, I do LOVE the idea of programmers who stay active, stay social and buck the system. There's no reason to fall into a stereotype just because some group appears to outnumber you.

As far as the Science Cheerleaders go, I approve of the message, but not the outfits.  As long as the science is real (and not dumbed down) then the method doesn't really matter to me.  Why should I care whether the message comes from a cheerleader, an old man or a rat?  The reasoning is in the results.  If it works, it works!  I figured out that my initial shock came from the same place as if I had seen my child's kindergarten teacher dressed in a similar outfit.  It just doesn't feel like an appropriate costume for the age group that they're reaching out to.  In the end, I say to the cheerleaders:  "The message is good.  The outfits...not so much."