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SXSW: Duh...Its Like Tech for Girls Continued...

[Above: Syuzi and Alison meeting for the first time at Maker Faire in 2006]

After four years, Syuzi Pakhchyan and I were finally able to get together and host our own talk about girls in technology. The talk was called “Duh… Its Like Tech for Girls <3" and it was presented as a core converation at SXSW Interactive 2010. We were joined by many audience members, who were passionate about igniting that tech spark in girls, teens, and women.

After a quick introduction of ourselves and our blogs, we opened up the conversation to those who are currently working with similar goals. The result was a conversation that shined a light on a much broader problem facing schools, institutions, and American culture when it comes to inspiring girls to take up electronic, robotic, or scientific pursuits.

The discussion was fueled by a foreign correspondent attendee who questioned why some of the programs in America need to "dumb down" the software interfaces when introducing programming to young girls and teens. While the words "dumbing down" didn't sit well with the audience, it was good to point out the differences we have as Americans versus other countries. There is definitely a huge gap between American girls and those who grew up in other established countries when it comes to comfort with electronic engineering or working in computer science. Her comment spurred a much larger conversation about a number of issues in our school systems, the lack of teacher information, the general stigma of girls working in the sciences, the culture of American commercialization, and the roles of parents in learning.

It was easy to feel the audiences frustration with these issues. Luckily, a number of institutions and people working to make the sciences and technology more accessible for girls were in attendance and spoke up.

Those represented were Girl Start from Austin, TX, who run science and technology workshops and camps, the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) who help schools by creating such programs as "Science in a Box," and National Girls Collaborative Project who help organizations and insitutuions work to increase gender equity in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Also encouraging, were the number of dads in attendance who were looking for ways to help their daughters get comfortable with technology at an early age. One father mentioned that we are making a generation of consumers, not makers. His comment was followed up by Girl Start's point of view that we are making users, not creators and that doing anything to stimulate or encourage any kid to get into science and engineering is comendable at this point.

Among the crowd was a 13-year old girl named Hana. She suggested that sites like Facebook should offer a way for teens to program their own apps on the site. Later, after being inspired by the talk, Hana presented the idea of creating a app for teens that allowed them to create their own programs at the Alcatel/Lucent Apps Idol lounge. She ended up winning the contest, and took home a Bose Sound Dock — finding me later that day to celebrate, (pictured above).

After leaving SXSW I felt The discussion was a great start, but there is certainly much more to say...

In regards to this topic, I have set up a place to continue or add to the discussion via the Switch Facebook page. If you want to join the discussion, please do! The Facebook page is located here: http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?topic=13449&post=67106&uid=351188072436