A place for girl geeks in Edmonton

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The geek movement is alive and well in Edmonton. But while the geek community is strong, its individual participants, particularly those with XX-chromosomes, are still working to carve out their niche.

The last DemoCamp I attended, there was some discussion between the likes of Cindy Fulton, Hilary Darrah, and Roma Sobieski about creating a sort of branch of the local tech community that was more inclusive of women. After the event that night, seemingly hot on the heels of that discussion (though I believe unrelatedly), local social media mavens Shauna McConechy and Brittney Le Blanc launched YEG Girl Geek Dinners.

Girl Geek Dinners were founded by TweetMeme Community Manager Sarah Blow. Here’s what international Girl Geek Dinners are all about:

The Girl Geek Dinners were founded on the 16th August 2005 as a result of one girl geek who got annoyed and frustrated about being one of the only females attending technical events. She was tired of being assumed to be marketing, tired of constantly having to prove herself and decided that she just wanted a change and to be treated just the same as any other geek out there, gender and age aside. After all to be geeky is to be intelligent, have passion for a subject and to know that subject in depth. It’s not at all about being better than others, or about gender, race, religion or anything else. Those things just detract from the real fun stuff, the technology, the innovation and the spread of new ideas.

That’s how the movement began. But I really wanted to understand why Shauna and Brittney brought these events to Edmonton. Here’s the email exchange I had with Shauna…

Unknown Studio: What is your ultimate goal with Girl Geek Dinners?

Shauna: When I started thinking about bringing Girl Geek Dinners to Edmonton it was to bring a group of strong, witty, sassy, smart, unique women together. Social Media has opened to door to conversations about pretty much anything, including geeky topics… sometimes especially geeky topics. It has been very interesting to witness how many chicks out there have such passion for technology. It was apparent that we have a solid online conversation going on in Edmonton, we want to take it offline. So the ultimate goal is to create a solid, open and tolerant community of gals and guys who have a common interest: geekiness.

TUS: Many of the tech events in YEG have seen an uptick in female attendance over the last two years. Why bring this initiative forth now?

S: Sure there’s been increased female “attendance” numbers at Edmonton tech events, but there haven’t been any organized girl-centric tech events (to my knowledge). Why not bring another tech event to Edmonton, especially one with international recognition? I’ve been working on bringing Girl Geek Dinners to YEG for a while now and about 8 months ago I approached Brittney to see if she wanted to co-chair organizing the events. She was fully on board.

The way we see it is there’s room for everyone. Having said that and knowing there are other events happening in the City, we’re the only one dedicated to the betterment, development and camaraderie of girl geeks.

TUS: How would you respond to guys who feel like they’re being excluded?

S: Well the feminist in me would have to bite her tongue… And then I would say men are certainly not excluded from Girl Geek Dinners. It is the mandate of GGD to allow men to attend events but only by invitation from one of the attending women. Each woman attendee is allowed to invite one man each if they chose. This club is not exclusive by any means — at the most we’re “niche.” Personally, I am keen to hear what the attending fellas have to say about the event.

TUS: Do you have any plans to build robots? If so, will they be evil or friendly?

S: I have always been partial to the Buffy-bot, but she would have to come with the Buffy wardrobe, that way we could share clothes. Do I have plans to build one? Not at the moment — I’m too busy with my preparedness manual for the inevitable zombie apocalypse.

TUS: You touched on what the definition of a geek is when we spoke once before. Could you expand beyond “someone who likes gadgets, programming and everything in between”?

S: Dictionary.com says a geek is: 1) a computer expert or enthusiast (a term of pride as self-reference, but often considered offensive when used by outsiders. 2) a peculiar or otherwise dislikeable person, esp. one who is perceived to be overly intellectual. 3) a carnival performer who performs sensationally morbid or disgusting acts, as biting off the head of a live chicken.

Although definition #3 sounds highly entertaining I’m sure we won’t be seeing those kind of geeks — or at least not many — at our events. My personal definition is somewhere in between definitions one and two.

To me a geek is someone who has a passion for technology (all aspects), science fiction, social media, witticisms, intelligent conversation, being challenged, the future, and unknown possibilities. A geek is someone who doesn’t settle for the mundane of the norm, but someone who believes there is more than meets the eye. (see what I did there?)

TUS: How long has this initiative been in the works?

S: I have been chatting up other like-minded gals around YEG at networking events and via Twitter about this initiative for over a year now. As a matter of fact my first email to Sarah Blow, Girl Geek Dinner Founder, was May 6, 2009. As I mentioned earlier it wasn’t very long after that I approached Brittney to see if she wanted to be partners in founding the Edmonton Chapter.

TUS: If I dress up as a convincing enough woman and call myself Rosey, do you think I’ll be able to pass as a girl geek, or just the bearded lady?

S: I’m going to say yes just because I want to see you dress in drag. BTW snaps for using the name Rosey and asking about robots all in the same interview. (ed. – see what I did there?)

From personal experience I believe you will be able to pass as a geek anytime, girl or other wise. However, you do have very nice shoulders so if you were to dress in drag I’d like to see you in something strapless.

TUS: Are there any open spots for the event?

S: We’re actually “sold” out. I guess the term would be we’re full, not “sold out” since tix are free this time around.

It’s worth noting that we started with 20 tix, they went in 4 hours. We then added another 10, and now those are gone too. Weeeeeee!

Edmonton’s first Girl Geek Dinner takes place Thursday, June 10 at Ceili’s Irish Pub. For more information, check out the YEG Girl Geeks website.

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