The Girl Geek Coffee Club: IT’s not just a man’s world

THE Girl Geek Coffee Club was founded with one goal in mind – to get more women into IT, shattering the stereotype that it’s a man’s world. Meld’s Kaili Ding joins these passionate female coders for a cuppa with a geeky twist.

Photo: Yu Cheng Chong

The Girl Geek Coffee Club had their first meet up of 2012 on International Women’s Day.  Held in Bar Commercio, a small coffee bar on Berkeley Street, it was a casual meeting around a low coffee table with hardly enough seats to accommodate all its members. From afar, one could easily mistake these women as a bunch of friends enthusiastically bantering over some cups of coffee. But look closer, and you’d see the words “Girl Geek Coffee Club” printed on three pieces of inconspicuous, plain white A4 paper, camouflaged by the white wall they were stuck on.

The meeting began with introductions, with everyone acknowledging their field and specialties. The members came from IT, Mathematics, Computer Software Engineering, Statistics, and many other diverse backgrounds – including something which still eludes me: External Maximisation. It did not take long for the chatter to grow louder as more members turned up, each settling themselves into the group along with a cup of hot coffee, fresh juice or cold drinks – all paid for by Google.

Photo: Yu Cheng Chong

Before the conversation reached its height, five men and a woman dressed in Google T-shirts strolled in loftily. The Google Engineers and the Google People Specialist were here.

Some of the girls kept their cool and nodded an acknowledgement. Others were less reserved in their admiration, delirious smiles spreading across their faces. And all this for good reason. You may have assumed Google men were the archetypal software engineers: nerdy, socially-impaired, bespectacled. But these men, with their toned bodies and eloquence, put that stereotype to rest.

Armed with an enormous bag of goodies and a large box of assorted jelly beans, the Google team assimilated into the group – and conversation began. Topics ranged from Google products to seemingly casual chatter, chock-full of technical IT jargon mere mortal folk would struggle to comprehend.

Photo: Yu Cheng Chong

Google’s People Program Specialist for Australia & New Zealand Stephanie Borgman, says Google sponsored the GGC because it wanted to support women in technology.

“We are excited to be here. It’s a wonderful thing to see all these women here and just talking about things they can connect with and relate to,” she says. “We really want to do everything to support women in this industry because it is really important to have diversity…Seeing more women is something that will revolutionise the next industry.”

The idea for GGC came about during  Google’s Anita Borg Memorial scholarship retreat – a scholarship intended to help dismantle barriers that keep women and minorities from entering computing and technology fields.  After all, when it comes to IT-related subjects, there is a huge disparity between the numbers of men and women who take them on.

“The girls studying ICT are pretty isolated,”  says Lead Melbourne Ambassador for GGC, Xi Liang.

Photo: Yu Cheng Chong

The GGC also aims to foster relationships, networking and mentoring over a relaxed cup of coffee, allowing the girls tobe themselves”.

“When all these women come together its very powerful,” says Stephanie Borgman. “They are very under represented in their classes. It’s a chance for them to get together here with different speakers at Google.”

Aside from connecting people, Remya Ramesh Chithra,  Lead Ambassador for RMIT, says the Girl Geek Club also wishes to break stereotypes which sees a career in IT as a “man’s sort of thing”. They want to encourage more women to take up IT as a career option.

In order to make the girls feel more at home, the GGC has established a rule which requires any male who attends the meetings to be accompanied by a female – or wear a male skirt. The Google Engineers, fortunately, were excepted from this rule at the first meeting.

After an hour of chatter, it was time to part. But the Google Engineers and Google People Program Specialist had one last trick up their sleeves.

From a black bag, they pulled out a collection of Google T-shirts to be given away to all the participants.

Photo: Yu Cheng Chong

With goodies such as Google International Women’s Day mugs, Google pens and Google Glasses, the participants left in a hub of joyous chatter.

Before we left, the ambassadors told us about GCC’s plans for the future. Remya Ramesh Chithra said she wishes to establish a local chapter in every single university and connect with them so they can support one another.

Melbourne ambassador Xi Liang said she wishes the GGC would encourage women to continue pursuing ICT and hopefully one day the club would become a more formal institution which can produce a few role models for women in technology.

Photo: Yu Cheng Chong

To all female international students out there who are studying Computer Science, Software Engineering, Information Technology, Multimedia, Computer Games and related disciplines: If you ever feel isolated or underrepresented at university, this might be the club for you.

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