Aleen Mean

Computer <3

I’m of an age where I can remember my first encounter with a computer. I was still small enough that I could go into work with my mom and take naps under her desk, maybe three or four years old. One day, Mom showed me the monitor of a computer. I don’t remember much, just a few pixelated cars on a color screen, but I was absolutely transfixed.

And that’s just where it started: I remember Mom explaining to me that the computer someone donated to a preschool wouldn’t run any programs because there were no disks for the machine (whatever that meant), amber text against black backgrounds, and typing in random gibberish because I didn’t quite have a grasp on sentence composition. I remember sitting at the computer learning the alphabet in my kindergarten classroom in lieu of going to the crafts table, playing Where in the World is Carmen San Diego and Number Munchers in computer class when I was older, and the sound of dot matrix printers making Print Shop creations come to life. I remember having to stay inside from recess when I got sick in the winter and playing Oregon Trail on the green-screened classroom computer.

I remember the computer Mom’s employer let her bring home so that she could work (a Macintosh Classic or Classic II) and how much my cat, Princess, loved the fireworks screensaver. I remember when that computer went away and was replaced by 100-series PowerBook and how magical it was to have access to a computer that could sit on my lap. I remember the first time I changed a font in a word processing program and the novelty of printing to a page that wasn’t attached to hundreds of other pages.

I remember the first time I was able to access the Internet, during a summertime computer class I took with a friend in a town over an hour away. I learned about search engines (AltaVista, thankyouverymuch) and felt overwhelmed by the enormity of possibility.

I remember our first computer, the one that wasn’t one of the few perks of Mom’s job as an educator. It was just before I graduated from the 8th grade and we put a call into Gateway for a quote. For whatever reason, they built and sent the computer to us even though Mom made it clear that she wasn’t planning on ordering that day. Computers were expensive and Mom didn’t want to keep it, but it ended up staying in our house. After a while, we found an Internet service provider and I was busy keeping our only phone line occupied, miscounting the number of minutes I was dialed in, talking in chat rooms, and teaching myself HTML. I spent my 16th birthday on the phone with Gateway tech support after I’d managed to install a particularly persistent virus (and learned a valuable lesson about opening files from strangers) and quickly learned the value of reformatting my computer’s hard drive.

While computers haven’t been ubiquitous my entire life, many of my memories are tied to them. I was so fortunate to have a mom who told me, from an early age, that I should absolutely grow up to work with computers. In some ways I think I was lucky to have few friends, as it was harder for society to tell me that I shouldn’t pursue a career in technology because of my gender.

Because the fact of the matter is that the toxic background message for girls is that they aren’t suited for technical careers. We show them princess movies where women have to be rescued, give them dolls to mother, and encourage them to be quiet and demure. To make matters worse, even though women were the first programmers, there aren’t a lot of female role models in tech nowadays. In the movies and on TV, computer programmers are almost always unkempt dudes, not inquisitive women who come up with the improbable solution at the last second.

This is why I’m such a ardent supporter of App Camp for Girls, a program that shows girls entering the 8th and 9th grades that programming is a fun way to bring their thoughts and ideas to life. It teaches them that they are capable of writing code when so often they’re told that doing so is not for them. Most importantly, App Camp for Girls shows these kids that they are not alone. I always felt weird because of my interest in computers but many, many other girls shared my fascination; I just didn’t know any of them.

Yesterday, the App Camp for Girls 3.0 Indiegogo campaign hit its halfway point. We’re trying to raise just under $50,000 more, which will mean that more camps can start in more places. If you can spare some money, please consider donating to help us reach our goal. I know it’s overused, but every little bit helps. Don’t have an extra buck or two? That’s okay! You can still have an impact. My friend Virginia Roberts wrote an excellent blog post with ideas of ways you can support both the women volunteering and the girls participating in camps.

I’m so happy to be a part of such an amazing organization as well as the larger Apple community. Technology is nothing short of the combination of magic and science, and it’s only going to get more magical as it becomes more inclusive. This is just the start of amazing things.