February 04, 2006

Girl Geek Gateway

I am a girl geek. I didn't start out that way. Well, not really. I grew up in a home where I was expected to learn about computers once they became something that people actually had. My father was an engineer and so we had a computer fairly early in the world of home computers. My father also started building them (without a kit!)as a bit of a hobby. This didn't qualify me as a girl geek.

In fact, once I left home, I only used my computer for the odd game of pinball and to type.

Then something happened and I entered the world of girl geekhood. Now, I still had never LEARNED to use a computer. I just poked, played, looked up things as I needed to, and learned how to make this thing work. I never seemed to get the whole "be afraid of the computer" thing people seem to have.

More than a decade later, I am the official geek in my department at work. This is a department dominated by women. Sure, there is an IT guy but he only deals with network stuff. I am only to deal with web design and maintenance. Being the girl geek means that I am also the person everyone comes to with their computer questions. I am the one who is known to explain in "plain English" how to make formatting work in Word, how to copy tables, how to clear the cache and so on and so forth. My ability to do this is looked upon with much awe. No, I don't have a Ph.D. but I know how to find your documents lost in the well of lost documents. I adore the people I work with, I really must say that. They are brilliant, interesting, driven and truly committed to their work. Many just don't get the computer part.

What is interesting about the whole girl geek thing is that in the department this is not a gender issue. I don't think anyone thinks it is particularly surprising that I am a woman who can "make computers work." The IT guy quickly figured out that I knew enough to be respected, so the only one in the dept to have a chance at the girls don't do computers was out of luck.

The interesting part is dealing with the greater IT dept. If I call, I often get the dumb girl treatment (of course, one might be able to argue that what I get is the "IT" treatment since this seems to be an IT thing in general). However, if I email someone in tech, the response is quite different. I get a detailed, respectful response. Why? I sometimes think it is because I have an unusual name that doesn't scream my gender. I frequently get responses back addressing me as Dr. or Mr., neither of which apply. Now, one might think this confusion is the default response of email vs phone. I thought maybe this was the case. Maybe I didn't come across on the phone as being as sure of myself. I would have happily believed that.

I mean, it is a bastion of liberal thinking, but then something happened. We have to periodically request network permissions when we add a new web address or author to build web pages. I gave another employee the email I use to request these things for myself, so that she could be sure to ask for the right permissions.

She copied and pasted the identical request in her email and sent it off. In response, from the same employee that I had dealt with when I had made the same request, she got an ENTIRELY different email. The tone was condescending, not blatantly you are dumb as toast, but definiely not the same tone as I received. I went back and looked at mine. Definitely different response to the same email.

So, there you go, if you want to be respected, you have to either knock their socks off by being twice as smart and techy as a guy or fly under the radar, letting them assume you are a man. Or you just should stay away from other techies and be respected just because you are one. I tend to prefer being that gateway to computer knowledge for those who are unsure. It is fun, rewarding and well, I like teaching people how to use these things.

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Lee said...

I love this post TW - and girl geeks are the best!

~ nellenelle said...

It's weird working for a state agency... the whole union thing and all. We are all treated like we know not and would destroy all we touched. Geesh they would go nuts if they knew I'd done something so mindless as attach my natural keyboard (ordered by the state.)

I certainly do not know as much as you know, but know enough to be dangerous. My problems would probably be somewhat opposite yours... phone vs email or in person. I see this with a place like Home Depot, where it is immediately assumed by staff I know nothing.

There are plenty of women who know there stuff... witness Aly on technodyke. If I ever encountered something in need of a solution, she is where I would turn.

Nice post, tw.

Everything in Transit said...

Sho 'em who's boss. ;)

TW said...

Now see nelle, I think it is something in Home Depot. My biggest danger in most trips to Home Depot is coming home with a date. They fall all over themselves to talk to me.

TW said...

LOL thanks Bliss and Lee.