I’m geeky, you’re geeky, we’re all geeky at She’s Geeky
Story and Photos by Wanda Hennig
Super-geek and Berkeley–based internet identity guru Kaliya Hamlin mounted her first She’s Geeky conference (they’re called “un”conferences on the She’s Geeky website, due to the fact that they’re run “open space technology” style, and more of that to come) in October 2007.
They grew from her observation that while women are encouraged to enter the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — once women leave school and enter the workforce, they don’t have much of a support system.
She noted that the average tech conference might have a handful of women. She’s Geeky grew from Hamlyn’s desire to gives women in technology “an opportunity to get together and discuss the unique issues they face in their respective fields … to provide a space for women geeks to create enduring communities … and to foster collaboration and innovation among peers,” to quote from the She’s Geeky website.
This past weekend, the fifth She’s Geeky conference, held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View (same place as the first). In between, there have been East Coast versions of She’s Geeky, in New York City (December, 2008) and DC (November, 2009).
The first She’s Geeky drew around 200 women.
This past weekend, 300 women came to the event, facilitated by South Africa–born Heidi Saul.
Some made the trip from the East Coast and I met women from Nashville, Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle and DC — and all over Northern California. Hamlin’s mission is to take She’s Geeky to women where they are around the United States, rather than have them make the trip.
So what is She’s Geeky and the un-conference?
Let me describe, in brief, the format.
You arrive. You get your biodegradable name tag. You sit on one of the chairs arranged several rows deep in a circle. You order coffee or mocha of your choice (from the only man in the place) and help yourself to bagels, muffins and other breakfast snacks (sponsored).
Then Hamlyn does the rounds with her mic and you introduce yourself with the words “I’m geeky because ….”
To summarize from Hamlyn, who set the scene and got the ball rolling on each of the three days:
Open space technology principles we’re using are these:
- Whoever comes are the right people.
- Whatever happens is the only thing that can happen.
- Whenever it starts is the right time.
- When it’s over, it’s over.
- If you’re not learning or contributing, use The Law of Two Feet. If a session is not interesting to you or you’re not getting something out of it, go to another session. Don’t sit there wasting your time. It’s your responsibility to get what you need to get out of today. So put the topic you want on the wall.
- Butterflies and Bumble Bees are the people who leave sessions and go to more then one. So, if someone leaves your session, it doesn’t mean they don’t love you.
Then Hamlin urged those of us willing, able and enthusiastic, to come and “write on a piece of paper a topic you want to offer or a topic you want help on.”
- Make it clear whether it’s something you offer or something you want to get information from. Then each person will read out what they’re offering or want.
- And then you put up session at the time you want to give it and if someone wants you to change the time, they can ask you.
- Many of us are in deeply technical fields that have their own language. I invite you to remember that people are coming from diverse communities. Also, if you expect people to know something, like PHP, feel free to ask for that when you offer your session.
- No subject is too silly. And you can be creative.
A smattering of the 100 or so sessions offered over the three days:
- Mine is on switching geekdom. I want other people to tell me how they’re doing it.
- I’d help brainstorming topics on privacy / invasion for a conference I’m presenting at.
- Security basics. What you can do to secure your computer, data and software.
- I’m going to do a session on image editing in Gimp, like Photoshop but free.
- I’m going to do intuition in business. Do you have it. Right brain. Left brain. How to give it, how to get it.
- I’m asking who is the administrator of your permission system?
- Women-designed social networking. What would be different if women were designing them instead of men?
- How to realize your confidence. I am badass; you are badass. Empower-pointing yourself.
- I did beekeeping yesterday. I’m doing it again today. I brought honey to taste.
- How to answer people who can say “I can help you get higher in web rankings”.
- Forget the moolah — these are the real capital of the future.
- The iPeriod. Learning tools for managing your girls stuff. There’s a bunch of apps in the stores for your cycle, fertility tracking, etc.
- How to use google forms to use data and forms for practice. (From Oakland and TechLiminal geek, Anca Mosoiu)
- Game culture, working on a game, development of a game.
- Guide dog geeks.
And so on and so forth.
I was married to a geek, in South Africa, back in the days when I worked in a newsroom and wrote stories on a typewriter using carbon paper and, well, he worked on a mainframe and fed in cards and I had no idea what in the world he was doing, but he’s still doing a version of it now, 30-plus years after we divorced.
And my stepdad, Eric, also in South Africa, is a longtime geek who taught himself a programing language called Clarion back when god was a boy and I was a good deal younger. He still writes programs using Clarion.
Back then, I had no idea what he was doing and no interest. My mother felt the same way.
He used this to his advantages by writing programs for idiots and fools. My mother and I were the idiots and fools. And no, he did not call us idiots and fools. He’s a well-mannered dude. But we knew, because he would test them on us.
His aim was always to write things that did not require a manual and that were intuitive. If we got it, he knew he had succeeded.
I thought it pretty funny, under the circumstances, that I was headed off to She’s Geeky, and sent him the link.
He had the humor and grace to reply: “I had a look at the site and it seems that you are going to have a very interesting conference. I think you have done amazingly well with your online stuff, and you are certainly leaving me behind!”
Which is not strictly true. But it does make me believe that if you have an interest, follow it; and don’t let anyone tell you you can’t be geeky; and it’s never too late to enter the queendom of geekdom.
See you at the next She’s Geeky!
A few more She’s Geeky links and facts:
What are some of the benefits of attending She’s Geeky?
What’s the history and background to She’s Geeky?
Where did the She’s Geeky name come from?
Are you a geek? If so, leave a comment. If not, leave one anyway!