The Next Barbie A few
weeks ago, Mattel created an online vote for an incredibly important question: the profession of the next Barbie doll. They included computer engineer barbie as an option, which pretty much guaranteed that the entire online world would vote for that
The Vote News of the
vote spread virally - through Reddit, Digg, Twitter, and even our internal Google mailing lists. Well, obviously, we won the vote, and we probably only hacked it a little bit. So now, Mattel just had to figure out what Computer Engineer barbie would look like.
The Result This is what
they came up with. She's got a pink laptop, pink shoes, skintight pants, & a whole lot of binary code. Some people saw the new doll and accused Mattel of continuing to uphold their bad reputation of encouraging stereotypes about females, like being girly-girl and loving pink.
Breaking Stereotypes But actually, Mattel
breaking the stereotypes here. The stereotype of a CompSci girl now is that they *dont* like pink. Here, Mattel is telling little girls that they *can* like pink and be a computer engineer at the same time. That's an important message, and I want to explain why I think so now.
Growing Up my mum, my
dad, & my 3 computers Lets step back a bit, to when I was a little girl. I learnt programming in middle school from my parents, both computer scientists. I had fun programming in my spare time, and I thought my parents had a fun job, so I decided I would go to college and major in computer science.
One of these things is
not like the other… When I got to college, I realized I didn't quite fit in with my peers. I remember being in my freshman Comp Sci class on Halloween, and only the 2 girls had come in costume. The other girl wore a Star Wars trooper costume. I wore demon horns, a miniskirt, and boots. Oops.
THEM ME After I eventually
made friends with my classmates, they were quick to point out more of more of our differences. They loved Star Wars; I loved chick flicks. The only game I could beat was Solitaire; the only games they played were „real‟ games.
Not Geeky Enough Once my
CS friends realized I wasn‟t a “true geek”, I wasn't invited to most of their hangouts - D&D nights, sci-fi screenings, or gaming nights. Eventually, I just wasn't invited to anything at all. I was sad, but busied myself with extracurriculars.
Earning Geek Cred In my
masters year, I grew lonely and wanted to find a way to fit in more. So, I learned how to program games, and I bought a few vintage gaming shirts (even though I'd never played those games). That was enough geek cred to make the CompSci crowd accept me, even if it was kind of faked.
“Sauce on Mouth” Not Quite
Right (A classic Pamela look, from years of practicing no table manners) My dad’s shirt from the 70s. My closet was entirely extracted from his. The feeling of not belonging wasn‟t exactly new to me. I was raised by british geeks in upstate new york, and my siblings and I were often reminded by classmates that we weren't quite right. We didn't say stuff the right way, we didn't wear the right clothes, and we didn't have any "common" sense (arguably not that common).
So I didn't think about
it much - this feeling that I didn't belong in CS - until I met another group of people that felt the same way. That happened when I was given the opportunity to teach web dev to a group of minority students for 2 weeks - where minority means mostly women, blacks, and hispanics.
Dance-Offs! I've met a lot
of CS students in my time, and these ones were *different*. They used to hold dance-offs after class – sometimes during! That inspired me to hold dance-offs at conferences, because, really, every conference can use a dance-off, and it's a great way to stall when you're having technical problems.
Stereotype versus Reality Anyway, they
were asked to put on a poster session about their own ideas for increasing diversity. There‟s one poster that I always remembered, by one of my favorite students. She had drawn a picture of a girl that was half-stereotype/half-reality, where the stereotype was an introverted super-genius, and the reality was creative & social.
More Girls Like Her She
said that she just wanted more role models like the colorful girl -- she wanted more examples that she could be that girl, and still be in CS. For girls like her growing up now and deciding what they want to be, Barbie could serve as their role model, could prove to them that it was possible.
Barbies in every Flavor It‟s
not that I want the next generation of CS geeks to all wear pink. I just want to get rid of the idea that all CS geeks need to like anything in particular - besides programming, of course. Ideally, there would be computer engineer barbies in all flavors - punk, goth, prep, jock, nun - and all races and genders
Occupation vs. Personality Generally, I
think your occupation shouldn't be dependent on your personality and hobbies. You should be able to be a fashionable construction worker, a cross-dressing politician, a preppy tattoo artist, or a sex-crazy golfer. I know it's hard for us to disassociate them, but as far as I can see, it's the only way to get diversity across the board.
Diversity is a Good Thing
Diversity is important, particular in a decision-making group - like a profession or professional team. In the Wisdom of Crowds, the author argued that one of the 4 elements needed for a wise crowd is diversity of opinion, to ensure enough variance in approach, thought process, and private information.
That's just a theory, of
course, so you don't have to believe it. But in my own experience on project teams, it helps to have a variety of perspectives on a problem, and since many CS projects are user-oriented, it also helps to have your project team reflect the diversity of your users.
Welcome to CS! My basic
point is that the Comp Sci world should be one that makes anyone feel welcome, and that doesn't care what your "extra" skills are. I shouldn't have to defend my Comp Sci cred just because I wear a miniskirt or can't get past the first level of Super Mario Brothers. I should just belong, and so should any of you.
I want to thank Mattel
for taking the first step, by showing that you can be a Barbie girl in a CS world. Now, the next step is for all you with kids to buy that doll - modding as desired - and encourage your kid to pick a profession regardless of their personality and personal preferences.