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Girl geeks site seeks to 'smash stereotype'

The mission of GirlGeeks is to empower women in the technology field  

By Marsha Walton

(CNN)-- Not long ago, "geek" meant one thing if you were one, and something completely different if you weren't.

But a steady transition seems to be underway that's moving the definition from "uncool" or "misfit" to "the sharpest knife in the drawer."

And it's the mission of the Web site GirlGeeks to help complete that transition.

"We chose to call it GirlGeeks because we wanted to smash the stereotype," says Kristine Hanna, the Web site's president, CEO and co-founder.

"It's not just about sitting in front of a computer screen in a cubicle at two in the morning with your pizza box; it's about making a lot of money, being able to make your own career, being able to empower yourself because you use technology as a tool."

GirlGeek Laurie Edwards, an English Literature major in college, says she fell into the tech field when her family ran an Internet service provider (ISP) in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She says she did crash courses in networking, TCP/IP, routers and hubs.

  • GirlGeeks leader:
    Site aims to help women feel empowered, challenged, safe

    It was in that role that she encountered skepticism from some men in the industry.

    "The reaction of me walking in the door (and saying), 'Hey, how's it going, I'm here to look at your network,' (caused) jaws (to) drop on a regular basis," she says.

    Edwards uses the GirlGeeks site to network and to ease occasional frustrations in the still male-dominated field.

    "It's nice to know that I'm not the only one who has the struggles that I have, I'm not the only one that feels like I'm the only woman here and I'm not taken seriously," says Edwards.

    "It's important that when they come to our site they feel challenged, they feel safe, that we treat them with respect and that we get them results," says CEO Hanna.

    Not all the site is quite so serious. One of its most popular features is the Geek-o-Meter, where you can find out if you're a "Geekasaurus Rex" or still a "Geek in Training."

    Sample question:

    Your dream vacation is:

      a. Weekend in Cambridge with Stephen Hawking
      b. A weeklong Geek Cruise
      c. A trip to the Arctic Circle to test the latest extreme gear
      d. 48 hours of uninterrupted coding

    With computers as matter of fact as electricity for young people now, Edwards believes more girls will feel comfortable with tech careers.

    "I think as technology grows to be more commonplace in our society, that . . . will allow women and young girls to realize they can do more in technology," she says.

    But that could take awhile.

    Among some ninth grade girls at Tucker High School in Tucker, Georgia, the "geek" word still tilts more toward "introvert" than toward "genius."

    "I think of someone who buries their face in the computer screen, probably doesn't go out much, and whose world kind of revolves around computers," says Annamarie Harmon, a ninth grader at Tucker High School in Tucker, Georgia.

    One of her classmates had a more positive take:

    "You have to realize the geeks are the ones who are gonna end up like Bill Gates, with millions of dollars," says Missy Johnson. "They have the high rate jobs and I think people need to start looking up to geeks instead of looking down at them."

    • GirlGeeks: The Career Success Site for Professional Women in IT

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