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Emily K. Schwartz Headshot

The Accidental Techie

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Some women know from a very young age that technology is in their future. They are 12-year-old science fair extraordinaries, mental calculation geniuses, and computer whizzes. They are the girls studying advanced calculus with relative ease; they are the ones running home after school to code the website for their school club. Numbers are organic. Technology is a natural fit.

I was not one of these girls.

Instead, I preferred words -- or at least thought I did. Math and science required a bit more effort, so I, like many girls, stuck to what seemed easier: language. Except they don't tell you that there's a science to language, also. Grammar, to me, was a daunting, complex world of organization and precision, of labels and placement, of terminology difficult to implement in real life. I didn't care about subjects and indirect objects; I just wanted to get my point across.

And yet at some point between then and now, I wandered over to the other side of the digital divide. I'm no software engineer, but I am an Assistant Editor of a labs group at a leading media organization. My role combines editorial function and progressive forward-thinking within a rapidly shifting media landscape. We pride ourselves on innovation, on developing and testing new technologies that bring the future of digital media to life. It's exhilarating. Challenging. Different. Why hadn't anyone told me about this world? Why was I nudged the other way?

As women, it's critical that we open doors for young girls who do not know they exist. These are not just doors to the unknown, but doors to the "STEM" careers: opportunities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Last week, Amanda Marcotte wrote a discouraging piece on Slate venting her frustrations with Forever 21 for selling an "Allergic to Algebra" t-shirt. What backwards message is that sending young girls?

There was a time when I thought just that: I was allergic to algebra. But I wasn't allergic at all; I was just being pulled in the other direction. Few educators or mentors demonstrated how math was valuable or applicable to my life. No one discussed how the number of women working in fields that curate so many of our greatest products and ideas is embarrassingly small. It's up to us -- and our fellow women who flourish in fields dominated by men -- to lead that charge.

We can start by discussing it. Earlier this week, a study out of Penn State University seemed to demonstrate that children who were exposed to high levels of the male hormone androgen were more drawn to STEM careers -- jobs relating to things, not people. It's long been debated if girls' aversion to math and science is a product of nature vs. nurture, and the latest research no doubt helps us address why and how girls behave. But if girls are naturally more drawn to people, it's worth considering how we architect and market STEM careers to be more social, warm and inviting. A career in math, science or technology doesn't mean that helping others is off the table.

We can continue encouraging girls to pursue interests formerly roped off to The Boys. We can continue being role models. But as the accidental techie among us, I'd advise we start by acting now.

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