Profile: Building the future of tech with the Geekettes

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Originally published on the Best Buy API blog, April 23, 2015

The Best Buy API team is a pretty close-knit group, and that connection doesn’t always end at the office door. Members of our team are involved with all manner of tech-affiliated events and organizations here in Minnesota and beyond. One of the coolest is Geekettes, a self-described “community of women dedicated to helping aspiring and established female tech innovators.” The group has chapters in eight cities around the world, with the Twin Cities and New York City being the only current American outlets. I sat down with three of the Geekettes on the API team to talk about what the organization means to them.

“A lot of times you’re the only female developer on a team,” says business analyst Leah DeBruycker. “Geekettes gives you the feeling that it doesn’t have to be like that. They’re all about giving women in tech more tools and providing a chance for networking, role models and mentorship. They offer coding workshops for everyone from people who have never coded before to more experienced coders. There are also presentations on a variety of topics; past ones have included resume writing and how to present at conferences. A lot of the women who attend are juggling the same things, so there’s a common background. It puts a fun spin on working in tech. It’s a fun environment and is really positive and welcoming.”

Data analyst and former Geekette of the Month Kim Gerst agrees. “It’s a low stress way to learn about something new without worrying about being the one in the room who doesn’t get it,” she says. “I’m not a beginner by any means, but I still get nervous when I’m at a conference and I’m sitting next to someone I don’t know while trying to solve a problem. It can be intimidating. You often find that you’re one of only a handful of women in the room. You feel an extra pressure to be just as knowledgeable as, or even more knowledgeable than, everyone else. You’re kind of taking on the weight of all the women. I’ve worked really hard over the years to drop that feeling, but you still feel it.”

“I like having the Geekettes sticker on my laptop as a conversation starter, especially to talk to my daughters about it,” says Gerst. “I like being able to tell them that this is out there, that there are women who are getting together to do this. To let them know that there doesn’t have to be so much pressure to compete. You can just relax about it a bit.”

Beyond that sense of community, Geekettes is an excellent learning environment even for experienced attendees. “It’s a low test place to learn new things where there isn’t a lot of pressure,” says Associate Product Manager Anna Bliss. “They opened up a meeting in December for folks to try out doing a lightning talk — I had not done one before, so it was great to have that opportunity to test my skills. Not long after that, I had an opportunity to give that same talk to another tech group. I appreciated having had the opportunity to try it out first someplace comfortable and supportive and not as competitive.”

“Being a woman in tech is sort of like that quote about Ginger Rogers, how Ginger had to do everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels,” Bliss continues. “Geekettes is about those small shifts, showing women and even young girls who might be interested in tech that there can be women’s organizations that don’t have to be pink and purple and sparkly. And things are changing. At the most recent MinneBar, the women were still a minority, but a bigger minority than they were a few years ago.”

“My daughter is interested in engineering,” Bliss continues. “I’ve had to have talks with some of her male friends who say things like, ‘Girls just aren’t as good at building robots.’ It’s good to know that there are spaces for them to do these things where they’re not going to be teased. It’s a place where women who want to enter the tech field can talk to people who are in it now and are changing the working culture so in 15 years our daughters won’t have to fight the same fight we have.”

If you’re interested in getting involved with the Geekettes in the Twin Cities or elsewhere, check them out at The Twin Cities chapter is putting on their first all-female hackathon May 16–17, so be sure to sign up and say hello to the Best Buy Geekette contingent.

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