So the big news last week was the latest “occupation” for Barbie is a computer engineer, whatever that means (I guess let the perennial hardware versus software debates begin). Maybe it is time to retire that “math class is hard” speech chip once and for all and replace it with some often-used Linux shell commands. Or maybe this should be a lesson for our daughters: persevere past the polynomials, and you too can code. Or design circuits.
Personally, I am glad to seek Geek Barbie, with her hot pink netbook and matching Bluetooth headset. (And what is up with all the different Bluetooth headsets on 24, anyway? Didn’t anyone at CTU’s IT department get involved?) It is about time. We need role models wherever we can find them in the popular culture. And while you might have issues with Barbie’s unrealistic and unobtainable, ahem, dimensions, the fact remains that she has paved the way. Just take a look at the history books:
Barbie joined NASCAR twelve years ago, now we have that hot GoDaddy babe Danica Patrick racing at Daytona this past weekend. And as an astronaut in 1965, she was certainly ahead of Sally Ride nearly two decades later, who incidentally was at Stanford just before my time there. She has already run for President, twice. And last year she came with her own tramp stamp, what could be more hip than that? So she is a bit behind the times in the tattoo department.
Back when I went to college and grad school, in those dark pre-PC days of the 1970s, we didn’t have any girls, let alone ones that looked like Barbie, in the nerd classes. In my dorm at Stanford, it was 297 guys, 3 gals. This was the fabled Crothers Memorial engineering dorm – the dorm that played such a significant role in the early PC era that a Silicon Valley company was named after it (Cromemco Computers). I mean, how pathetic and nerdy can that be? But I digress.
I realize that the male/female engineering mix is changing – at the recent iPhone app dev class that I attended, there were two women out of a class of 20. This semester the breakdown is 4 out of a class of 45. Still not great. So how can we get more women into the computing field? Certainly not by offering hot pink computer cases, although there is something to be said for that.
I think it goes back to elementary school, where we need to encourage basic math and analytical thinking for girls early on. People that turn into great engineers love to take things apart and put them back together and have a natural curiosity about how the world works. I remember when my brother and I were growing up, we were constantly breaking stuff (the difference was my brother could actually fix things (who went on to become a EE) doing this all the time. Let’s destigmatize girls doing this. Barbie is a great first step.