Girlgeeks loud and proud

Sarah Bickerton is a self-confessed 'geek' - and a 'girlgeek' at that.

Sarah Bickerton is a self-confessed 'geek' - and a 'girlgeek' at that.

The Canterbury Masters student likens it to gays and lesbians happy to be called 'queer' or black Afro-Americans who are proudly 'niggers.'

Bickerton is one of a growing band of 'GirlGeeks'- a worldwide US-based organisation of 40,000+ female computer nerds, who aim to show computing is not just for the boys.

"I have been interested in computers since I got my first Atari in the 80s. I have had a 286, 486, I now have a Celeron and one to two junky PCs at home, which I use for parts," she says, adding she spends eight hours a day at her PC.

The 26-year-old first become noted as a geek because she raved about Star Trek and her friends did not realise what she was going on about.

Then, last year, while researching her thesis on 'online communities', she accidentally came across the GirlGeeks.Com website. It offers careers advice and opportunities to meet other GirlGeeks online, which Bickerton does daily.

"We recently had a big discussion about male IT guys and how we interact with them. Even in this day and age, women in computing are almost considered window dressing. The guys wonder why we are there. IT is considered a male profession but we (women) can do the job," she says.

After finishing her Masters next year, Bickerton wants to do a PhD on internet use for political groups, and then she will look for academic work.

"I am definitely an academic geek," she says.

And just like the 'queer' and 'nigger' anologies, the title is "more in your face" and "it gives you strength."

"Especially attaching the word 'girl' to it. Geek is almost a male thing. At high school only boys were called geeks. Geek is a statement of difference. It's really cool. Women are there in computing, but people do not notice us," Bickerton says.

It may be an US-based organisation, but GirlGeeks have their eyes and horn-rims set on New Zealand and Australia.

After just two years, the organisation created by Kristine Hanna (CEO) and Peter Crosby (chairman) now has 40,000 members, stretching from Canada to Kosovo, Atlanta to Italy, and Down Under.

Hanna had held senior jobs in IT but realised something was needed to give a hand to her fellow women geeks.

Once GirlGeeks.com was launched, the website grew mostly through word-of-mouth, with high-quality streaming video and webcasts on IT issues.

"GirlGeeks is (also) a career success site for women in IT. Our aim is to help women discover and become who they want to be using technology," says GirlGeeks marketing director Natasha Zaslove.

Zaslove says the site, with job-ads, mentoring groups, discussion boards, a "Geek-O-Meter" assessment tool, and "Girl Geek of the Week" feature, has empowered women and created many success stories.

"These spiritual dollars are matched by our revenue stream," she says.

IT job ads bring in money, help the US use women to fill its labour shortages and fulfill the GirlGeek mission.

Earlier this month, at Comdex in Las Vegas, the organisation staged its first celebration of women in technology as 1500 women techies gathered for their first Golden Horn-Rims Award aiming to spotlight women in IT, which went to author and teacher Lyda Weiman.

Now, the San Francisco-based organisation plans to expand globally, though GirlGeeks the world over can access its website and join for free. Membership is expected to grow "exponentially over the next few years."

Zaslove says the English-speaking countries will be first with localised services planned for early 2002.

"Australia and New Zealand are in many ways leading the pack when it comes to internet use and interest in the medium," she says, "We already have quite a few members in both countries."

Zaslove also has one last thing to say: "It's cool to be a geek."

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