Written by Parker, 17, co-founder. Fact checking by Jill. Thanks, Jill!
How it all began.
I haven’t always had nerdy interests. In fact, my becoming a nerd was pretty much by accident.
It all started in the summer of my 8th grade year when my friend asked me to go to a week-long robotics camp with her. I, having no idea what a robotics camp actually entailed, agreed to go.
Best decision ever.
My friend and I got grouped together to build and program a LEGO Mindstorms NXT robot. We loved every minute of it. And the more we practiced, the better we got. And we got good. So good, that we actually won a competition between all of the teams’ robots. This experience led me to join my local competitive FLL (FIRST LEGO League) robotics team, which was a lot of fun.
Ok, fast forward about a year. I had just joined my school’s FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) team. FRC is the highest level of robotics in the FIRST league. Sure, I was jumping into to something new, but I was confident that my previous experience in FLL would prepare me for whatever challenges came my way.
I was pretty wrong.
Firstly, most of my teammates were guys. All of these guys had some prior building or coding experience, and felt confident in their ability to build a robot from scratch. My experience? Um, building a lego robot by following the manual, and using block coding (where you drag and drop commands into your code instead of writing it yourself) to program it? Geez. Let’s just say that I was in over my head, and I had no idea what I was doing. I would spend my class time googling the code that the guys had written, trying to understand any part of it that I could.
This first year was really frustrating. I could barely make sense of the code, I didn’t get to help with building the robot, and for that season I (along with the other girls on the team) got the job of…wait for it…designing t-shirts. Yay.
But by far the most frustrating part of all this was that the guys on my team had just walked in with all of these skills at their fingertips, and I didn’t. That camp that I went to in 8th grade was the only experience in robotics that I’d had, but those guys had grown up around this shiz. Their childhoods were spent building stuff, teaching themselves how to code, etc, because our culture encourages boys to pursue technology as an interest.
Fast forward another year. Our team was preparing to build a new robot to compete in that year’s challenge.
This year would be different. I was older, I was wiser (lol), and the frustrating experiences from last year had lit a fire in me. I swore that this would be the year that I would learn how to code.
So, I hit the books (internet) hard and began to chip away at the code that had previously stumped me. The language that our team was using to program the robot was C++, and with the help of a few YouTube tutorials and a college student, it was all starting to make sense. At the competitions that season, our robot was running my code, and that was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.
I would just like to point out that I still have a VERY long way to go with C++. I for sure still fit in the so-called “noob” category. But trust me, if I can do this, so can you.
But why am I so alone? *single tear slides down cheek*
One thing that smacks you in the face when you go to a high school robotics competition is that there aren’t that many girls around, and those that are there usually don’t work on programming or building, but on marketing or scouting (where you interview other teams to figure out who you want on your “alliance” if you make it to finals). I am one of the very few female programmers at these competitions. Where da ladies at?
I get it. It’s hard to catch up if you haven’t grown up building things and doing other techy things. It’s discouraging if no one expects you to be interested or to understand the more complicated stuff. And if you feel kind of alone and you don’t have any friends that are into it? Forget it. It’s not happening.
Girls are missing out.
A lot of people roll their eyes when they hear about the tech gender gap. But I take this issue very seriously, and here’s why:
Technology is not just about making the most consumer-adored smartphone. Technology will be the solution to many global issues. It will, whether we like it or not, shape our lives and the future of our planet, especially with new frontiers like Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality on the rise.
By that logic, the people who have mastered technology will be the ones that a) figure out how these global issues will be solved, b) decide exactly how technology will shape our lives, and c) decide whether technology will be harnessed for good or for evil.
What if we all get together?
And then it hit me. There are plenty of opportunities for girls to get into tech, but where is the culture for girls in tech?
This culture needs to be a space that includes every fandom, every area of nerdiness. A space that appreciates the five pillars of Tumblr, and internet culture in general. A space where you can take your nerdiness to the next level by building robots, but also where you can explore other areas of nerdom, whether that be anime, gaming, geeking out over shows and books, etc. And part of it needs to be a game inspired by RPGs.
After a year of research and working on pretty much nothing else, I’ve come up with a blueprint for this culture.
Being a nerd is one thing, but add tech to your nerdy repertoire, and you are like, mega nerd. A 20% cooler nerd. Nerd on speed (only figuratively, plz don’t do drugs).
This tech stuff is so much fun once you crack it open. It’s hard sometimes, but not THAT hard. Just because no one has done it like this before doesn’t mean we can’t do it. We’ll make our own path. And if we all work on figuring it out together, we as nerds will be unstoppable. Seriously.
And that, my friends, is the story behind Nerdy Girls.