Barbie and Me

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The recent news that Mattel is about to release Software Engineering Barbie has me reflecting on my childhood and my route to a career in software engineering.

MeAge4As a little girl I idolized my father who was a mechanical services engineer.  I was a “tom boy” and my father always encouraged my interest in science, engineering and computers by spending a small fortune feeding my technology addiction.   I aspired to be just like my dad and to me a career in engineering seemed like a fascinating and obvious choice.   When it came to discussing my career ambitions with my dad I was devastated when he tried to discourage me from becoming an engineer by telling me bluntly that he’d never hire a female engineer and couldn’t think of one of his friends who would.  

Dad was probably as devastated as I was to have to have that conversation, but it was Ireland in the early 80s and there were girl’s schools in Ireland back then that didn’t even teach math to the level required to qualify to study engineering at the University level.

Some teenagers rebel against their parents by getting tattoos, body piercings, having a child out of wedlock, or abusing drugs; I rebelled by acquiring a degree in electronic engineering.  

BarbieMRIMy sister Tara was my polar opposite.  From an early age it seemed that Tara’s ambition in life was to get married and become the perfect wife and mother.  Tara was as obsessed with dolls and dresses as I was with mechanics and computers.   Tara would probably have been the perfect target market for Computer Engineering Barbie but I suspect that Tara’s Barbie would not have been slinging code, but instead would have been posting photos of her perfect family on Facebook and Skyping with her husband Ken who was the multi-millionaire founder of an internet start-up.   Would Software Engineering Barbie have changed Tara’s career ambitions?  Not a chance! 

I’ve never owned a Barbie in my life.  In fact growing up I loathed everything that Barbie and her gender stereo-typing stood for.  Does the fact that Software Engineering Barbie will soon join the Barbie stable of playmates mean that Software Engineering is now considered an acceptable profession for Barbie loving girly-girls?

I’m visiting Scotland in a couple of weeks to speak at a Girl Geek event and will be visiting universities in Edinburgh and Glasgow while I’m there.  I plan to ask the latest crop of female engineering students what their take on this whole Barbie thing is, and post a follow-on blog then.

If you want Deb’s take on Software Engineering Barbie, you can check out her blog on the topic here.  John Smedley pointed me to the following link which includes ideas on how to make Computer Engineer Barbie more realistic.

Epilogue: My father passed away during the time that we were forming Actian Corporation but he couldn’t have been prouder of my accomplishments.  Tara went on to marry Stephen, a software engineer, and is now the perfect wife and mother and a regular Facebook updater.

About Emma McGrattan

As SVP of Engineering at Actian, Emma leads development for the Actian Vector team, including the Ingres and X100 components, and the Actian Matrix Planner team. A leading authority in DBMS technologies, Emma is celebrating 20 years in Ingres and Actian Engineering.

View all posts by Emma McGrattan →

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