The Rise of the Geek Girl

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A new playground ruled by an equal dosage of geek and chic is amplifying the representation of women in the crux of Myanmar’s connectivity revolution. Aimee Lawrence meets with Sandi Sein Thein, organiser of Geek Girls Myanmar, to discover how the community group is giving a voice to female tech professionals in an industry commonly commandeered by men.

Not too long ago geeks were a tortured breed, regularly making a spectacle of for their intellectuality in everything technology related. Fast forward to the 2000s and ‘Geek is the New Chic’ is a sentiment proudly emblazoned across everything from T-shirts to mugs – anything that could be plastered with this new message of acceptance and celebration, wore it.

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Sandi Sein Thein, Community Leader of Geek Girls Myanmar

Whilst this fashion craze has eased in the West, in Myanmar an enthused Sandi Sein Thein joined by a multi-skilled team of six board members, is driving a new energy into the geek chic phenomenon and in this case, it is anything but a passing fad waiting to lose its place to an equally trendy successor.

“Geek Girls Myanmar is much more than a seasoned fashion parade. It’s no novelty. We’re here to stay. In the beginning I heard comments from some of the men in the tech industry who believed we’d probably fizzle out. “They underestimate us. We’re not just for fun and they’ll see that with our dedication, comes longevity.”

Geek Girls is not a new concept. Its roots can be traced some 4,000 miles away in Sweden when in 2008, two Swedish women in reaction to male dominance within the industry, created the Geek Girl Meetup as a community for women in tech to rally and gain support.

Encouraged by this movement and how it could benefit women in her country, Sandi Sein Thein launched Geek Girls Myanmar in September 2014 as a Facebook group with the support of Ooredoo’s entrepreneurial branch Ideabox. Its objectives are simple: to provide women with the skills and the knowledge to empower them in the national and global tech community.

“We want to be a driving force in women claiming their place in the tech industry and help them beat challenges they might face along the way,” Sandi Sein Thein explains. “In order to encourage a wave of female tech professionals in Myanmar, their participation in the global tech community needs to be ramped up. Giving them the confidence to find their voice is a big part of what we’re about. Females in this country are commonly innately shy and in an industry dominated by men, they need to be able to overcome this.

“I see Myanmar’s connectivity revolution as an opportunity to try and balance the gender inequality within the tech industry gap before it continues to grow.”

In Myanmar the struggles can in part

be placed in the hands of the country’s social norms. Once coupled with the equally detrimental issue of there being an absence of hang-out spots for women to share ideas, the causes behind the disparity become glaringly obvious.

“Women, including myself at 26-years-old, still have a curfew which is restrictive and a problem men don’t face. Technology doesn’t shut down at a certain hour meaning the industry can sometimes run nocturnally. But working through the night on projects with men is not an option for women as they have to respect their parent’s boundaries and this is how they get left behind.

“In terms of hang-out spots, women mainly get together here to do typically female activities – shopping, cinema, hair salons and things like this. They don’t have many options to unite on a professional level.

“This is difficult to change as they are social issues firmly embedded in our culture. But the country is changing quickly with foreign investments and western lifestyle influences making their mark. Step by step we can we help make a difference.”

Since September’s first meet-up of thirty attendees, the Geek Girl crew has grown and their appetites for learning have been met with a host of monthly events and workshops with various guest speakers. Topics covered in their program have ranged from communications and public speaking, aiding rural communities and women with technology, app building and perfecting the online image.

Despite its progress, Sandi Sein Thein points out that the country’s aspiring female techies need to take a much stronger, more proactive approach in their progression.

“Yes, we’ve had a really encouraging response from the female techies out there but to make a real difference and for us to be able to help them improve their prospects they need to take more initiative and participate, if they have dreams of being leaders in the field.

“I’m still learning myself and have learnt a lot in the short time we’ve been here. We’re a team and strong teams collaborate. Where some people are weak others are strong and the best ideas come from having the confidence to freely express ideas and confidence can come from knowledge. Self-learning is the key to success.”

Can Geek Girls Myanmar retype the involvement of women in the tech industry and close the gendered gap? With their dedication to attracting a wider female audience, their exciting calendar of events including hopes of hosting the country’s first female only hackathon, the future certainly looks bright.

Website: http://www.geekgirlsmyanmar.com, Email:[email protected], FB: https://www.facebook.com/geekgirlsmm

This article was previously published in MYANMORE’s monthly lifestyle magazine, InDepth #11, September 2015.

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