Girl Geeks & Opinions

Just back from the first Girl Geek Dinner Sydney for 2009, kindly hosted by Google at their funky new offices down near the water in Pyrmont. Damana – the force of nature who organises these great events – had asked me to do a lightning talk at the event.

Sometimes it is hard to think of a topic for these things, but Damana had shared an article recently that sparked an idea. The article was by Toni Bowers titled Sure she’s a good tech blogger, but what does she look like? This article reminded me of how much the opinions others have about girl geeks can be a barrier we need to overcome.

It made me think about some of the stuff I’ve learned over the years as a women in the business of information technology.

1920px-Bristol.zoo.western.lowland.gorilla.arpThe Problem: The first thing to note is the gorillas in our midst – these are people (and not always men) who have fixed ideas about women, our capabilities, and our place in the world.

Fact: People will have pre-conceptions about us & what we like or want to do. These pre-conceptions can be based on gender, looks, where we come from, or even that we remind them of someone else they dislike. Often these ideas about what we are like or what we could possibly do have no connection with how we really are.

Solutions: It is important to get it clear in your mind what you:

  • Like to do
  • Want to do
  • Can do

This is all about defining your personal values and capabilties so you can:

Get a plan: Find people who are willing help – Work out who is not willing to help – Define action steps

Learn to ignore people who demonstrate that they are part of the problem & not part of the solution.

You can also generalise information to help clarify your thinking. For example, Gilmore’s Law is your friend:

“The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” – John Gilmore

If you adopt this approach – when you have considered the options, taken advice from trusted parties and there are still obstacles to your goals then you can just route around them.

When you can’t solve a problem by confrontation simply route around it!

But, it is also important to choose your battles wisely, it is always better to win the war than just winning an individual battle.

Desire to be Liked: Another issue that I see a lot is the desire to be liked by everyone. No matter how much we strive not everyone will like us. This is not to say that we should not be friendly or build alliances. However, we do need to be ok if other people don’t like us. This means that we need to be free from the need to be liked by everyone.

Not everyone has to agree with or like you all the time for you to win or be successful.

Here is a support network I prepared earlier (Source: @trib)

Support Networks: It is important to build your support networks (–>here’s one I prepared earlier)

A support network is a group of people who listen, understand, sympathise & have ideas to help – but above all they need to be people who care about you and what happens to you. Support networks can formal, like mentoring programs, or informal like the picture here.

Above all: If you are a woman in IT a lot of people will have opinions about you, and those opinions may or may not be true. I heard it said somewhere:

Other people’s opinions of you are none of your business!

It’s true – one third of the people that read this post will probably think it’s rubbish, the other one third will probably think it’s great, and the remaining third will not care either way. Each valid opinions. But if you lean on the opinions of other people all the time it is like being buffeted by waves on the open sea. To use a canoeing metaphor, it is important to pick a course and then paddle as hard as possible to make it through successfully.

Slides from the talk are over at SlideShare


One thought on “Girl Geeks & Opinions

  1. Hi Kate, this was a great talk. I’m glad you are sharing it online. I would love to see you give this talk again. There was a lot of excellent feedback about it on the night and in the days that followed the GGD Sydney dinner.



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