Interview Sarah Blow – Girly Geekdom Founder
Here is an interview with Sarah Blow, community manager of the famous twitter startup TweetMeMe which is very popular to bloggers and founder of Girly Geek Dinners – a community effort to promote women in areas of technology and sciences.
Sarah tweets under the name Girly Geek while I tweet under the name Dude of Data, so I met her by chance on the Twitter.
Here is the interview-
1) Describe your career in science from high school to your present position.
That could take a while…. High School for me was split into Middle School for 2 years where Science was dull but practical and Secondary School where Science was a lot of fun and I set the table on fire in the chemistry lesson… My Chemistry teacher always reminds me how incendiary I am! and High School was up north for my A levels where I didn’t choose science subjects as I really wasn’t sure about the science teachers there. However at the last school I did an AS in computer science and it was my teacher there that recommended I considered a career in the technology industry. Originally I was considering law. As a young child I wanted to study law and go to Cambridge. As I grew up I guess things changed, I loved playing with my Commadore 64 and was good with databases etc so my natural progression was to Computer Science.
I didn’t study A Level maths so my options were somewhat limited however I got my first choice University placement at Manchester University (UMIST as it was then). Whilst there I won a scholarship to do my Masters of Enterprise in Computer Science and then went onto my first job as a Software Engineer at Cardinal Health. Then I started the Girl Geek Dinners and decided a change was in order in terms of my career as I found I was good at the community aspect of engaging people with technology. So I looked around for a while and then moved to my current position as Community Manager at TweetMeme.
B) What are the challenges and complexities in managing the community for Tweetmeme
TweetMeme has over 150 million buttons across hundreds of thousands of websites around the world crossing language, location, content management systems and server farms. As such it is my role to ensure those buttons are installed and working as the users require. That’s a LOT of users and a LOT of buttons to look after. I also support the developers that help to create the plugins for the different content management platforms and those using our API. The complexities of all this are the different languages, implementations, levels of understanding of code and template editing as well as the conversational language translations. In my case I speak and can understand French, some German, some Spanish and some Italian. However Google Translate is my friend!
I also communicate with the press and news services, put announcements up on our blog site, and create the support documentation found in our help area and on our forums. When users feedback comments and suggestions I also represent them and their views within technical meetings and in the design decision process. So really my role is incredibly varied and covers a real range of things.
2) Why are there so few women in science compared to other fields- even though it is quite a lucrative profession.
I think there are many barriers from when you grow up and what your parents expect you to do as a career, through to career advice at schools through to what options you choose at GCSE and what maths paper you do (higher or lower) as these do have a big impact on what doors you leave open or close. I also believe personal choice and interest areas have a lot to do with what you consider as a potential career option. Many people just don’t consider computing as a career these days as computers are fundamental to all jobs.
When you look at what jobs you considered as a young child did you aspire to be the next Bill Gates or was it more likely a fighter pilot, fireman or something similarly heroic. Many females look to nursing/ doctor roles as their heroic roles or law where they can put baddies behind bars. Many look to vetinary sciences or forensic science too.
What you aren’t told as a child is where there are heroic jobs in the real world that can lead you to do wonderful things and yet still be able to make money and have fun!
3) Describe your work at GirlyGeekdom on promoting women geeks. ( or women in science careers)
This question mentions specifically the GirlyGeekdom site http://girlygeekdom.com which was a blog site that I created a few years ago after starting Girl Geek Dinners where I could create and bring together interesting geeky content to inspire others to use, play with and enjoy. I wanted to create a fun and energetic environment where anyone male or female could feel like they were in a little geeky world. Which is where the name of the site GirlyGeekdom came from. The promotion of women geeks is only part of what we do on the site but it does bring together issues from around the world and hopefully move beyond that to bring sensible conclusions and a route forward. One thing I didn’t want the site to be was a list of complaints and issues with no attempt at finding solutions.
To help encourage more females into the industry we let them know about awards and intiatives that identify great female role models. We interview interesting people from the tech industry when we come across them and place them into our inspire series of video’s. We also have regular competitions supported by industry sponsors to get young people interacting with our site. We have both serious and non-serious content and we have a range of volunteer writers from around the world submitting great inspirational articles.
4) What are some tools you can recommend for getting un interested students interested in science careers.
One of the great recent tools to get young people interested in science based careers is to mix some of the things they already love doing with science. So for example recently I was introduced to the Manga Guide series which is basically a merge of manga stories with scientific based content in a fun non-science based story approach. This sort of thing is great for getting those who haven’t considered science as fun to look at it in a different way but still with the opportunity to learn more about it!
Other tools include advice on how to work your way through the University Clearing process, including all the links to useful sites recommended by the UK govornment etc. If you don’t get your first choices for uni, then why you should consider computer science or similar subjects as a suitable alternative!
5) How important is work life balance for you? What do you do to de stress.
Work life balance is very important to me and I get a LOT of requests on my time regarding both GirlyGeekdom, Girl Geek Dinners, my day job, friends, family and my hobbies. As such I have to tread a very fine balancing act to ensure that I meet expectations in all of those areas. A large part of doing that is actually to set reasonable expectations with each group of people with regard to my time and availability. I’m actually very lucky as my work isn’t too far from home and as such I do get to spend time there.
I work for a start up company called TweetMeme as their Community Manager so I’m on the internet daily looking after their community. I also do a lot of things outside of that. I tend to rest at lunchtime and take the breaks that I need. I don’t tend to work through every break I get as I’ve tried that in the past and that just tires me out. Instead I tend to time box things. So work is generally my standard office hours. I use my phone for emails on the go and tend to keep up with those then and when I’m at home cooking my tea! (Multi tasking works well!) I keep weekends free for friends and family as much as I can and evenings are a combination of GirlyGeekdom, Girl Geek Dinners, social events for work and spending time with family or relaxing.
In terms of what I do to de-stress… I do a range of things. I’m a member of a really nice gym which has some beautiful swimming pools which I love! So you’ll find me in the gym or the pool if it’s been a particularly crazy week. Or alternatively enjoying a good film at home or a good book and some relaxing music. Then at the weekends you’ll find me doing the more fun stuff that takes time to do! So I’m into rock climbing, white water kayaking, kite surfing and diving. In the summer I also get back into my roller blading!
6) Can we expect a Girly Geekdom in United States. What about a book?
In terms of a GirlyGeekdom in the US… well if someone from the US wants to write on the site they are always welcome, they just need to ask. We already have Girl Geek Dinners out there in 9 different locations, so there’s nothing to stop more of them happening. I’d love to do a Girl Geek conference which may well be called GirlyGeekdom but I don’t think that will be 2010… but it could be a 2011 possibility! As for a book! That’s an interesting question. I’ve considered it but right now I don’t have the time to write one, so if I did then it would probably be a combination of blog posts and ideas or the how to guide on GIrl Geek Dinners.
Contacts who are into the new media space can contact her through Twitter or via LinkedIn. For those who are into the more traditional channels of communication then you can contact Sarah via e-mail. A more detailed perspective is given on her blog here.