Sunday, March 22, 2009

Mary’s Random Curiosity

“If women need female role models, let’s come together to highlight the women in technology that we look up to. Let’s create new role models and make sure that whenever the question “Who are the leading women in tech?” is asked, that we all have a list of candidates on the tips of our tongues.”

I was looking for a role model for the me that was myself in an earlier existence and I was hooked by Mary Gardiner’s blurb at the LinuxChix miniconf 2009 where she was giving a talk about free software and mentioned command lines and coding in her spare time and something about her turn of phrase appealed. I had the feeling that she cared about things technical. So I set up a meeting to find out more. Here's her bit about herself.

Over coffees we talked about how an old computer with DOS2 and BASIC came into her life when she was only 8 years old and with help from a book from the library she learnt how to program, but with the perennial problem of not really having anything that she particularly wanted to make the machine do it was forgotten. Until high school, that is, where she was reintroduced to programming and Visual Basic in year 9 when she completed the HSC computing course early. It wasn’t a straight trajectory even after that but in spite of a diversion through Chemistry she was running her own server by the time she was 19, with her own domain name – still in use , and a bloglike journal continuous since then. By 2000 Mary had discovered Linux and LinuxChix. For a couple of years co chairing the LinuxChix miniconf. Her areas are Python, Java, Perl, and C and now her PhD is taking up most of her creative efforts.

Mary’s journal intersperses tech talk with life thoughts with suggestions that people donate blood for the bushfires. But overall a pretty solid amount of tech.

What I really like was her blog On Girl Stuff about her talk on Free Software and who came and the way women seem to land in the low status roles and how that happens and what our obligations to other women are in all this. And outreach programs for girls. Mary was putting out there that tension I feel between saying Yes girls can do that stuff (code climb mountains etc) but lots of girls are better at other things (communicating weaving etc) what do we do? Push girls into boy places? Make sure that girl places are respected and paid properly? No easy answers for me after a lonely lifetime of being a geekish girl with no geekish girlfriends, would I do it all again? Well I think the answer to that is I’d have to, I did what I was good at and that was coding but my life gradually tipped over into other roles because I was good at communicating too. Whoops this is about Mary.

I asked Mary about whether she has some female friends who she would go to for technical advice and it turns out that Mary is rich in female friendships that include computing. She has actively sought them out, LinuxChix is one of the places for this. She said it takes a while to develop from being there from being interested in the same things. Not really different from other interests. So that’s a big shift from my day and how wonderful. Maybe what’s changed is that there are enough women around now to be able to find the ones that you want to be friends with.

Mary’s Monthly Comp Sci Reading Group
Mary and her friend Alice started a group that meets monthly and discusses computer science papers that focus on a different topic each time. Sort of a techie’s book club. There’s blokes as well in the group, but Mary’s friendship with Alice was going to become the focus of this blog. I just haven’t managed to meet Alice yet.

The other things about Mary – Mary likes scuba diving (big time), snowboarding, swimming, yoga. She’s been with the same partner for nearly 10 years.

To be completed and pictures added when Mary gives permission.