Wikipedia: Gateway Platform to More Girls in Tech?

Ever since the Wikimedia Foundation announced its goal to raise the share of female contributors to Wikipedia 25 percent by 2015, I’ve had it in my head to make sure my 11-year old niece is adding her voice to the collective knowledge of the world.

It was with this goal of lighting the next generation’s torch that I ventured over to my brother’s house to hang out with the little genius who happened to be working on a homework assignment on her computer when I arrived. The assignment was to research and write a report on an invasive species – and she had selected the “mitten crab” – a species introduced to the Chesapeake Bay in 2005 and is currently being evaluated for its impact on the native Chesapeake Blue Crab.

As she was searching and culling the internet for information, I asked if she was allowed to use Wikipedia – she said yes. Then I asked if she had ever edited Wikipedia – she said no.  That’s when I gave her her first lesson in editing Wikipedia. We had fun, for over an hour, and it went off exactly how I first learned to edit Wikipedia back in 2006 when I was an instructor for Intellipedia.

The mitten crab Wikipedia page was the perfect page to launch her learning. Why? Because the number one reason people avoid contributing to Wikipedia is the feeling that they don’t have anything or enough information to contribute (per the 2010 survey conducted by the Wikimedia Foundation).

My niece and I quickly noticed we had something to add. The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center just announced it’s seeking reports of mitten crab sighting and collections. But this wasn’t mentioned anywhere in Wikipedia article – and we believed it belonged there.

To get her going I started with the basics – how to edit sections (versus the entire page), wiki-markup for things like links, bullet points, and bold text, the importance of including an edit summary. She picked it up effortlessly like the little sponge-brain she is.

In fact, her hand was on the mouse clicking “edit” faster than I could say “Whoa, Tonto!” First thing the following morning, she was reporting on the status of the page. It had been edited by a “crustacean nerd” (my niece’s words, not mine) but the bulk of our contribution was still there, including the line we added in the first sentence: named for its furry claws that look like mittens.

I don’t think doubling the number of females contributing to Wikipedia by 2015 is a difficult mark to hit. In fact, I think it should be much higher since the barriers to contributing are pretty easy to address. My experience this weekend proved just how easy it can be.

While wiki markup is just a syntax (similar to using Word), I can’t help but think that learning it could encourage girls to learn to program – as a gateway language so to speak – by showing them how fun it is to build and create something, moving them from consumers of information, to creators and builders.

If every Wikipedian took just one hour of their life to teach a girl how to contribute, the future of Wikipedia would be forever changed. Diversity is the key to survival and Wikipedia needs more of it – not simply to survive, but to thrive. Maybe there should be a pledge to sign – teach a girl to wiki. Or free classes led by Wikipedian volunteers. I don’t know, but I don’t think females aren’t contributing to Wikipedia because they lack desire or don’t have the time. I think there’s a barrier (albeit a small one) in education and awareness that once addressed will create a stronger, better Wikipedia, and in the process, perhaps will create a more technologically capable generation of women who can build the future they want to live in.

How to get a job in gaming

Since I have a little background in gaming folks are always asking me, “How do I get in?”

Which is usually followed by, “Is it worth it?”

First of all, it is. Definitely.

It’s all that you think it is and more. The best part being that all your colleagues are huge fans so it’s like one big gaming fest.

The worst part is working long, and I mean long days. I’m talking about seven days a week for months, no days off. Hours are such that you sleep in the office.

Which is like saying you’re forcing a dolphin to swim. I’ve seen colleagues working 18 days in a row, sick with the flu, on no sleep, and gleeful with joy.

Of course, there are companies with content farms that expect code monkeys, but they don’t dominate the industry.

So if you love gaming, you really love it, then go for it.

Okay, here is the harsh reality: you will start at the bottom. Until you have shipped your first title then you’re out.

Remember, the gaming industry is larger than Hollywood and acts a lot like it. Each game is a project with its own producers, directors, writers, coders, artists, etc.

When forming a new project companies will only hire existing talent, i.e. folks with previous titles shipped (popular resume buzzword). After that they will promote from within. Like moving up assistants to leads and pulling from other departments to be replace those assistants.

Rarely do they bring in talent from other industries. This is because, like the movie business, one flop can ruin the whole company. To make a game it requires all up front capital investment, sometimes tens of millions of dollars. All in the hopes that after they’ve spent this money the game will actually sell (and sell well enough to recover costs). Sometimes if they are lucky the game will go nuclear and then they will actually see profits.

You can see why most companies are hesitant to hire even the most talented coder/writer/artist who has no gaming experience. There is very little room for error.

For this reason I think that, to get in, it’s not who you know but what you have done. If you can’t say you’ve shipped at least one title then you’re out, and reasonably so. Shipping a game is tougher than you think it is.

Most overcome this problem by becoming a bug tester. Which is possibly the most fun and cool low paying job you can find. Companies are always hiring for them, especially around releases. This easily gets you in the door, but you may have to move to where the jobs are and this technically doesn’t count as credit for shipping a title.

The good news is that most bug testers are there for fun and so talent is quickly promoted to lead/manager. From there its just a matter of biding your time, learning the ropes, networking with folks on the project, and proving yourself.

It’s a clear path into the industry but it usually turns most people off. I mean moving a to a new city to become a game tester getting paid slightly above minimum wage!

Sounds ridiculous but like the movie industry where actors are waiters, it does work. In my time I helped four people get promoted from the customer service department right into the game. Within weeks thousands of players were touching what they created.

One was an artist, two were coders, and another was a story writer. Each one was incredibly talented but with no previous game experience. So, they took a job getting paid nothing and bided their time. All the while relentlessly in honing their skills and portfolios. As openings came up they applied and eventually got selected for one.

It didn’t take them long (most under 2 years) but they did get over the problem of how to get in. So, if you love games and are willing to do whatever to get in then here is your roadmap.


1X57 is a Washington DC Tech Titan!

Hot off the presses!

Fresh from the minds of the Washingtonian team and editor Garret Graff!

The 2011 Washington DC Tech Titans:


Our tech scene (DC) is the hottest it’s been since the dot-com glory days of the 1990s, with big investment by government in IT, surging green-energy programs, growing biotech research, and start-ups such as LivingSocial. Here are the people who are making this region grow.

And, our very own Titans!

From the magazine:

Amy Senger and Steven Mandzik
Founders of the consulting firm 1X57, they’ve become influential in Gov 2.0 circles—and have helped usher the CIA into the age of social media.

Very Wise: A Political Statement, of Sorts

I found this from one of my favorite leaders and her blog the Recovering Fed:

“…I have over the years developed a very small brand as a senior government executive who really believes in social media and the need to reconceptualize the concept of work. And let me tell you…I really believe in the transformative power of what these technologies achieve, which is effective connectivity between people, effective enough to let people self-organize to do important things together…”

“My essential political/philosophical conviction is belief/faith/trust that human society still has a lot of upside potential–so in that respect I call myself progressive. I tire very quickly of individuals who have a kneejerk reaction against any new idea. My bias definitely is to be much more tolerant of individuals who are enthusiastic about the new.”

Sage words that I def agree with.