Women find new ways to hack it in Silicon Valley
They’re also not work, although they have many of the tools and loose social conventions that employers here use to tempt the smart and eccentric hacker stereotype.
Google has its fancy cooks; hackerspaces have in-house kitchens where the geeks create their own culinary experiments. Facebook has a wood and metalshop for its employees to kill time. Hackerspaces do too, except you don’t have to work for Facebook. Or anyone at all.
Which brings us back to the years of pre-school childraising, when, given the paucity of paternity and maternity leave in the United States, so many women in Silicon Valley are at home, isolated from others, with very little time to themselves, and only small windows for their own intellectual or creative pursuits beyond parenthood.
Work is life for many geeks in the Valley; so if you’re not working, there’s not much else to do. Unless you combine hackerspaces with parenthood, which is exactly what the Hacker Moms have done.
They have a space, with the amenities a hackerspace can provide, plus co-operative childcare. They are building up craft centres, computer corners, and looking to prep the same kind of workshops as other hackerspaces, suitably cushioned for young kids.
Can you really build a child-friendly environment that’s also captivating to a technical mind? It’s a moot point around here, where environments like the Tech Museum in San Jose and the Exploratorium in San Francisco have long ago learned that attracting kids and geeks is an easy double to manage.
There may not be quite as many pieces of heavy machinery in a child-inclusive hackerspace, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be a place where the curiosity of its members can run rampant.
Despite the strange, and still often unchallenged gender politics of the geek world, there’s a commonality of interest that centres in the Valley, and crosses any gender divide.
As far as goals and common aims, go, there’s not much that separates the Hacker Moms and their hackerspace, the Mothership, from any other geek centre of gravity here, except a particular time and a particular challenge of young parenthood – a challenge that Silicon Valley’s employers have signally failed to address, or indeed exploit.
And in an environment where it’s usually the creative spaces and the small teams that come up with the next high-tech revolution, that should serve as a warning sign.
The male-dominated elements of the Valley are already famously bad at underestimating the contributions of its women technologists. If they’re not capturing their abilities in the workplaces they built, that creative power will centre and grow elsewhere – and already is.