Mirano Cafiero and Saskia and Malakai Wade really do believe that in the future, women will play a more prominent role in the world of high-tech...
Mirano Cafiero and Saskia and Malakai Wade really do believe that in the future, women will play a more prominent role in the world of high-tech and computing.
No, the record to date hasn’t been good. But you can afford to be optimistic when you’re 8, as Saskia is, or 12, as Mirano and Malakai are. Still, the girls aren’t leaving anything to chance.
Which is how they found themselves recently standing before a crowd of people, giving a presentation during the Women in Open Source segment at the Southern California Linux Expo, one of the biggest open-source-software conventions on the West Coast. They were there to be seen and heard, never mind the old admonition concerning children.
“Mirano talked about GIMP,” explained Malakai, of Santa Cruz. “I talked about Tux Paint. We talked about the OLPC XO computers, and at the end I showed this little video that I made with this program called OpenShot. It got a few laughs.” (Can’t miss with a stop-action Barbie movie.)
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Oh, and when Malakai says “GIMP” (image editing software), “OLPC” (One Laptop Per Child) and “XO” (mini-laptop), she’s not showing off the latest lingo for tween texting. Instead, she’s speaking the language of open source, a language in which the girls are fluent. Which was part of the point of the expo exercise.
Together in a conference room at The Westin Los Angeles Airport, the girls testified to how important free and open software is to the three of them, who have harnessed it to stoke their creativity.
When Malakai, Mirano and Saskia heard about the conference from their dads, both active in the open-source movement (and it is a movement), they decided they would submit a proposal for a presentation. The girls, Mirano said, wanted to make a point: “That there are girls out there who are interested in computers. We can do this. We’re not weak or anything, or unintelligent or whatever.”
Not unintelligent at all. They can speak in detail and at length about mesh networks and the differences between the GIMP editing-effect features called “blur” and “smudge.” They can reel off a long list of Web sites that provide tools or just entertainment.
And they are living proof of a message that organizers of the Southern California expo think is vital: There is no gender requirement when it comes to technological aptitude.
“They’re not bound by stereotypes,” Linux Expo spokesman Orville Beach said of the girls. “There is a lot of peer pressure, even at a very young age. I think a lot of that influences the career paths that people take.”
Yes, the girls’ friends sometimes rib them for being geeks. But they laugh it off and go about mastering the tools of technology. It doesn’t hurt that they have plenty of support at home.
In fact, it’s in their blood, this affinity for open source — software that is often free and typically improved upon by groups of volunteers.
Karsten Wade, the Wade sisters’ dad, works for Red Hat, a company that sells open-source products and services to businesses. His job is to nurture the community of Red Hat users who offer ideas and programming code for building on the company’s products. Larry Cafiero, Mirano’s father, is a copy editor at the Santa Cruz Sentinel and an open-source enthusiast who’s helped organize community events to promote the genre.
In fact, the Cafiero and Wade families might offer a hint to educators and hiring managers who’ve puzzled over the problem of the low percentage of women working in high-tech fields. Mirano said her father’s fascination with open source has inspired her.
“If you give your child a window, an open window for anything that they want to do,” she said, “and maybe learning from what their parents do, you could give them, like, inspiration.”
And once inspired, she continued, they will inspire others.
Including other girls, for instance, who might be inspired to embrace their inner geek.
Mike Cassidy is a columnist with the San Jose Mercury News.