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Arts / Technology / Women in tech

Leslie Birch, hacker: ‘My #1 goal is to prove to women that they can do this’

Birch talks with Geekadelphia about conquering Raspberry Pi and fighting gender discrimination in the tech world.

Leslie Birch is blunt about her mission: to get more women into hacking.

Birch, who went from hackathon newbie to award-winning hardware hacker in just one year, teaches classes at Hive76 and chronicles her projects on her blog. (She’s also up for Geek of the Year at this year’s Philadelphia Geek Awards.)

“My #1 goal for all of this stuff is to prove to women that they can do this, too.,” Birch said in an interview with Geekadelphia.

Read the Geekadelphia Q&A

Below, we’ve pulled some of our favorite parts.

On if she’s experienced discrimination as a woman in the tech scene:

I’m on two different forums now for women in tech and the battles women fight—salaries, not getting jobs or only getting jobs because they’re female—are real. They’re not getting the jobs that they want in terms of managerial [jobs] because they’re not being considered seriously. Men are still saying, “Oh, she’s pretty” instead of, “Oh she’s got a friggin’ doctorate in aerospace engineering.”

We’re fighting that all the time. Being part of the Ada Initiative has totally opened my eyes in such a big way. I think I’ve become very vocal about it. Do I personally experience this? No. In fact, only once in this past year did I experience that.

On having the confidence to start hacking:

I have to tell you, Raspberry Pi scared the crap out of me. You’re used to having an operating system. You’re used to having all these menus and suddenly you have nothing. You’re just dropped into a command line. It takes a minute for that to burn away. As soon as that negative chatter is gone in your head, you can move along.

That’s why I like incorporating the word “zen” with me. Zen really has to do with looking at how your mind works. Your mind, often as a woman, will have negative thoughts. And if you can be aware of those and counter them with positive ones, you can do any project.


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