The HeliOS Project is now.....

The HeliOS Project is now.....
Same mission, same folks...just a different name

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Monday, January 02, 2012

Move Over Barbie...Girls Want Tech.

Dress 'em in pink, build them cute little doll houses and do their hair in pretty little pony tails and braids.  Even after your best attempts to "socialize" them into their roles, many of them will disappoint you.

They don't want to play with Barbie's little motorized car.

They want to take it apart.

Seems that at a young age, before we teach them makeup and skirts, they want to get their hands dirty.

Unfortunately, many of us as parents will discourage this behavior.

I've long held, even with my own daughters, that no child should be channeled into any behavior that isn't "normal" for them.  My daughter refused to wear a dress or skirt until she was 14 years old.  Her mother was mortified.

But she's a little girl.....

Of course she is....but she's a little girl that took her watch apart to see what made it tick....literally.  I told her mom that we were lucky she didn't take an interest in veterinary medicine.

"Honey, have you seen the dog...?"

Today, she is a mechanical engineering student....and yes, she will wear a dress when protocol dictates.

But this isn't a lesson on parenting.  I am absolutely the wrong source to offer advice in that arena.  I've had major failures in the distant past.  One thing I can do, as I visit families and set up computers for them, is to recognize the "hacker gene" when I see it.

And more and more, I am seeing it in little girls.

And for that reason, we've set up the HeliOS Mentoring Program for Girls.  Starting in January, The HeliOS Project will choose one girl per calendar quarter, between the ages of 8 and 12, and mentor them in all things computer.  From the hardware to the software that controls it, we will teach them as far as they want to be taught.

Of course, the child has to show a legitimate interest in this area.  We talk extensively with the parent(s) to see if there is any behavior that might indicate an interest in this area.

Surprisingly, even for us, there is an abundance of it.  We got a good indication of that during our last two Camp HeliOS events.  The girls showed equal or superior aptitude and curiosity to the boys.

So our "project girl" for this quarter is named Ashlynn.  Her mom, Ciara, is excited about the prospect of Ashlynn becoming part of our program.  (for privacy reasons, we never use last names - ken)

"She loves computers", her mom said.  "She asks me questions I wouldn't expect from a 5th grader."

Ashlynn attends the fifth grade at Harmony School of Political Science.

She carries a straight A average and has not only shown academic promise, but exhibits the traits of a leader.

Ashlynn received a laptop from HeliOS three months ago and we pretty much knew right then that she would be our first mentoring project.

Ashlynn will also be given a "scholarship" for Camp HeliOS this year.  We waive enrollment fees for up to 40 percent of the registrants if they show a true hardship in paying the fee.  We are assured that since Ashlynn is a Linux User, she won't be asking her mom to spend the saved money on operating system upgrades or antivirus software.

She's a smart of many we will present to you in the coming months.

All-Righty Then


Thomas A. Knight said...

Phenominal Ken! I have a little 5 year old girl that shows strong aptitude in almost everything she takes on. Reading, Art, Math, and yes, computers. More than once she has come to me, asking to look something up on Wikipedia. :)

Keep up the great work Ken. I love reading these stories.

kozmcrae said...

What a great program you've got Ken. There are too many subliminal messages telling girls "they can't". You are telling them they can. That alone will make a huge difference in their life.

Emery said...

Ken, I hope you don't teach her to spell scholarship the way you do!

Unknown said...


Thanks Emery

Anonymous said...

Once again, we promote the only gender we care about in this country. It's part of our modern societal neurosis that cares nothing for the promotion of boys and showers all attention on the success of girls.

I just graduated with a degree in Engineering. There were tons of programs to mentor, tutor and encourage girls in Engineering. Not a one targeted their help toward boys. All because of the natural tendency for boys to be more likely to pursue Engineering than girls.

In nursing where the tendency is flipped? Nope. No one was interested in encouraging males. Not even with a nursing shortage in this country.

Forget about "subliminal" messages! There are overt institutionalized messages that clearly say that the only gender worth giving favoritism to is girls. With no regard to the disfavoritism that comes as a matter of course by such treatment.

So, Helios, why is it you think boys are unimportant?

Thomas A. Knight said...

2briancox: Why is it that this has to become a gender battle? Why can this not be a celebration of a program that is truly wonderful? Sure, it favors the female gender, but Ken didn't create this "problem" that you see in the industry. And not once did Ken say that boys were unimportant.

But the truth is, there is a serious slant towards the male gender in any kind of computer program. When I went through college for network engineering, males outnumbered females ten to one. I doubt very highly if that has changed in the last ten years.

Ken is doing a great thing here by mentoring some special kids. If they all happen to be girls, well so be it.

Anonymous said...

HI Ken. A little personal history here. About 13 years ago, I enrolled in the local community college, in their PC Specialist (AA) program. The classes started out with 25 students about evenly split between men and women. By the start of year 2 there were just 6 of us left, with myself being the lone male. None of the 6 were younger than 30, though at least half of the original students had been fresh out of high school. I continued on to earn an AA degree in PC networking, as well as an AA degree as a PC Specialist.

Funny thing, Linux was never mentioned once in my schooling. I remember at that time I experimented with Corel Linux, but at the time most of my hardware had no Linux drivers.

Anonymous said...

I want to address the point and question raised by 2briancox for a moment.

I am a school teacher who will retire this year after 31 years in the profession. The majority of my teaching has been K-6th grade all across Texas and I have taken away some valuable observations from my time in this profession.

Our schools are deeply entrenched in 1950's thinking. Some of them are breaking out of this pattern but even today, a teacher who submits lesson plans that deviate from the "proven models" are "encouraged" to re-write them in a more "mainstream" fashion.

The "proven models" espouse the traditional gender roles we accepted 5 decades ago. I will not argue that there are tasks and professions best suited for each sex, but rarely in my experience have girls who show an interest outside of their "normal" range, been accommodated in reaching for them.

Starting from the first grade, boys are boisterous, loud, and seemingly more confident in their new environment than are girls. The girls tend to be a bit intimidated by this behavior and often take a back seat to the male behavior and their reactions to the new school environment. The boys will often tease or castigate the young lady that tries to interact with them on an equal basis. Thus begins the socialization process of our young women, or better known as "knowing your place" as a female.

This experience sticks with a girl for a lifetime. In that many of our schools do nothing to remedy the situation, young girls find themselves being herded into their acceptable "roles" as a female. It's only through such efforts offered by Mr. Starks, that young girls can "feel normal" about their curiosity and talents.

Ken is the one with a background in psychology so I will let him speak to this, but in my observation, mentoring programs such as this are critical to the development of an equal and just playing field for our young women. I for one commend him for his work.

An old and dear friend of mine passed several years ago. Her name was Ann Richards and she was Governor for the state of Texas in the early 90's. Ann was a steadfast believer in letting the child choose her path and keeping the educators out of the way until a clear path was chosen.

I agree. Don't "engineer" a path for the child, regardless of sex.

michpfz said...

I have not only been blogging about this for a long time (see -- I have started a company called Princess Free Zone, Inc. that seeks to offer alternatives to princess for little girls. I completely agree that all girls want to build and take things apart up until they realize that girls "should be" doing other things (like getting their nails done). It makes me insane that we even have to say all of this. I too have a little girl who wants nothing girly. Instead, she has had her own tool belt since the age of three. I've even created a character who is modeled after her: A super hero named Super Tool Lula who fights bullies with her magic tools. I've written a children's book hoping that we can start to introduce these kinds of characters to all kids. I love your blog and will check out your site. Happy to have found you!

Anonymous said...

In response to the Anonymous school teacher of 31 years, Thomas A. Knight and michpfz:

I never said that opening all doors to girls was a bad idea. In fact that is the best idea. Encourage and accept girls doing whatever they are interested in. That is the best approach with all people. Let them live their dreams.

But what each of you ignore is the very real possibility of a natural tendency (not a hard and fast rule) of males and females to each have their interests shaped by their gender. The genders are not the same. There are trends of interest which cause boys to behave, as a general rule, as boys tend to behave. You know, boys will be boys. They prefer the aggressive fields of problem solving, business savvy and technical challenges that they can let their natural male obsessiveness sink into.

And for girls there is the same thing. There is an obvious natural interest for girls to pursue nursing, teaching, psychology and other such fields that involve nurturing and caring.

I don't believe anyone in today's world believes that these tendencies should be enforced. The outliers of the world should be encouraged and supported as ALL people should be. Not with special favors, but with equal opportunities.

When you start giving special favoritism restricted to ONLY females, you need to acknowledge that you are also giving special disfavoritism ONLY to males. You can't push people ahead in line without creating the exact same end result as pushing everyone else back.

Ken didn't start this ethical oversight in our country to never give a boy special attention. But I think this society needs to talk about it. As the school teacher said, don't engineer a path for a child, regardless of sex. Just love them by granting the freedoms we all should have to pursue our dreams.

Anonymous said...

@ Brian

Quoting you: There is an obvious natural interest for girls to pursue nursing, teaching, psychology and other such fields that involve nurturing and caring.

You are over-generalizing the whole thing. As it may be (or not) a "genetic thing" that guides the different sexes into different areas of interest, there are too many girls that show, early on, a proclivity to go a different direction. Traditionally, and I dare anyone to contradict this, girls have been told to "act more like a girl" or "that stuff is only for boys".

I know. I was one of those girls in the mid 60's that were constantly told I didn't have any business in a chemistry lab. Some teachers went so far as to call my parents in and inquire as to my sexuality.

So, I am going to call bull crap on that broad brush of "boys will be boys and girls will be girls." There are too many of us that will never be able to "be a nurturing type". I am the department head of geo-chemistry within a large oil company. I am the only woman in my department but I run that department. If my father had prescribed to your way of thinking, he, along with almost the entire educational structure would have discouraged me from becoming what I wanted to become.

Sure, we may be predisposed to be a certain way depending upon our sex, but to place barriers in front of a girl or a boy who wants to do something different should be a crime.

They (boys) prefer the aggressive fields of problem solving, business savvy and technical challenges that they can let their natural male obsessiveness sink into.

Again, that isn't universally true. My female "obsessiveness" got me to where I am today as did my problem-solving skills. To put your argument to the test, then boys, via their natural aggressiveness, shouldn't NEED special mentoring. They can use that aggressiveness to get anything they want, right?

All this author is doing is helping encourage young girls that might want to take their lives to places other than "nurturing professions". You say there's too much of it. I will argue there is not enough of it.

Anonymous said...

2briancox: The programme addresses an unfulfilled need. Telling girls that it is OK to learn about computers and giving them mentors they can relate to who will teach them. Those things exist for boys and are infinite in their abundance.

For decades males in nursing were encouraged... to become doctors. A nurse was a restrained doctor. Restrained from full medical training because she is a woman. Today it is an odd situation as after efforts to encourage women in medicine enrolment in medical school by women is roughly equitable. If there is a nursing shortage it would be a good idea to encourage more men to try it. As a man though you can simply apply to school to enter the nursing programme and they may or may not accept you. That simple. As a girl if you express interest in growing up to become a computer programmer you no one will show you how. Not no one, that is changing, which is Ken's point and something he is changing.

If you are looking for efforts that encourage boys in engineering or computer science I would refer you to every school teacher, parent and university on earth. Boys have society. Girls have Helios. And hopefully more that other commenter will share.

Anonymous said...

And are you concerned with the scarcity of male nursing students?

Which makes 2 points at once. 1-You aren't concerned with the success of boys in any field and 2-There are indeed, no matter how wonderfully different you are, trends. Very real and very true trends. They've existed last century. They've existed in the time of the Romans. They've existed in the time of Moses and they will exist long after this societal bias towards girls has passed.

That's not an over-generalization. I was very clear that these are not hard and fast rules. To count the genders in a nursing school and then count the genders in a school of Mechanical Engineering and then to decide that there is no such trend ... ? You would have to be willfully blind.

Carla Schroder said...

2briancox, you better call the whaambulance because your transparent attempts
at derailing aren't working, nor are your silly bogus assertions about gender
differences. Really, these two tactics are so shopworn you should be
embarrassed. If reaching out to four girls a year causes you this much
distress I can only imagine how shattered you'll be when those four encourage
other girls.

Though I am encouraged; not so long ago any mention of helping women or girls
in tech was invariably met with a whiny chorus of "But what about the
mennnnnn!!" It's nice to see so many positive responses for a change.

'Derailing For Dummies' is a wonderful and sarcastic course in recognizing and
countering rhetorical tricks.

Ken, thanks for doing this. Every child matters, and individuals like you make
a big difference.



Anonymous said...

Oh, come on, Carla. Calm down. You disagree with me. Fine.

But surely you didn't let your emotions get so worked up that you ignored the part where I said that Ken didn't cause this attitude. Or the part where I clearly stated I just think we need to, as a society, talk about and look at our unfair attitudes toward boys. My reason for posting here isn't that I want to derail anything. I am not distressed about anything. I just think that this is a good example of the unfair ignoring of boys that goes on in this society and I want to use it as an opportunity to discuss that attitude. It's an important topic.

You obviously don't think this is up for discussion. Because you're not discussing any of my actual points. You didn't present any kind of logical argument about why my points are wrong. You're just turning the volume on your emotions way up and going, "Raaaaaaaah!"

So, yeah, you're encouraged by your group that agrees with you. Great. And you vehemently disagree with me. Ok. But next time take the mental effort to actually explain why I'm wrong in my point of view and making a point, instead of just getting angry.

Seriously, you can do better.

Paul Sams said...

Ken has decided to start a project to help little girls. No corporate support, no government support, just one man along with volunteers and donations from people willing to help. In the past he has also provided computers to boys and girls with learning disabilities, physical disabilities and children that the rest of society has not wanted to be bothered with. Why would anyone have a problem with a project for girls? I think it's great. Maybe my Dad was right when he told me if "I didn't make somebody mad, then I was just not trying."
Best wishes Ken.

Anonymous said...

My hope in addressing this was to have a discussion about the unjust attitude that we harbor in this culture toward boys. I hoped that the Linux users, being a bit more thoughtful of ethical issues and a bit more bright than the curve would actually have read my points and discussed what they actually are.

But unfortunately it seems that, like the rest of the internet, everyone reads one or two sentences that set them off, makes a few assumptions and disregards the actual point being made.

I never said Ken shouldn't help girls. I am not mad or upset that this program exists. I simply think his one mentoring program should not be marred with the embarrassing ethical blemish of banning boys.

And I hope he rethinks his attitude on the program. That's all. I'm not fuming here. Just trying to persuade and advocate for what I think would be more just.

Gavin said...

2briancox - "My hope in addressing this was to have a discussion about the unjust attitude that we harbor in this culture toward boys."

Ken's program is really a poor example of the ills of the world's society. In statistics, for example, an analysis with a sample size of four children per year in the entire world would be completely ignored. Besides, how is it possible to claim that four girls per year is indicative of societal ills the world over? What about the political turmoil that recently led to violence in the streets of Cairo?

Anonymous said...

The ill is the attitude. And talking about it can change it in more places than just here.

And this is something we can change. Do you have a realistic solution to Cairo...that you and I can both influence? I would honestly love to hear it.

Thanks for at least addressing what I'm actually saying (sort of). But do you really think we should do nothing about unfair treatment we see because somewhere else in the world something is worse...

That's probably only an idea that could form in the internet age. I think it's a poor ethical standard. To live an ethical life, we apply our ideas of ethics to what we do and what we have in our environment, don't we?

Gavin said...

@ 2briancox, I think I understand what you are saying now, but I disagree with the logic.

If we agree that boys have an unfair advantage in the discipline of technology, then providing extra support to girls is simply providing a similar advantage, thereby "leveling the playing field" in terms of advantages. Then boys have an advantage and girls have an advantage, which, by definition, now means that no one has an advantage. Thus what Ken is doing here is canceling out the advantages in a constructive way, not dragging down boys, because what he is doing is adding to the situation and not subtracting.

Now, if we extend this to other disciplines in which girls have the advantage and boys do not, then we would likewise want to add an advantage to boys until the advantages cancel out. By not detracting from either gender in any way, we are adding in a constructive way to society, not pushing others out of the way. This is not a zero-sum game where one advantage subtracts from another, but rather a wholesome aspect of humanity that can be improved both objectively and subjectively in every dimension. And yes, this is done in nursing:

The part where I disagree with you relates to your extrapolation that adding to the female experience in computing is somehow detracting from the male experience in nursing, et al. While it may be a trend that most "supportive projects" seem to favor the female gender, I think that is more because females have historically had fewer advantages in careers and thus need more advantages in the first place, not because there is an institutional grudge against males all over the world (which you can see by my link is false in itself). Furthermore, these advantages and disadvantages need to be taken on a per subject basis. Ken is helping four girls per year in the area of computing - mostly because he does computers - and I still fail to see how these four girls will be affecting any number of boys in the area of nursing, et al. And since Ken is attempting to cancel out the advantages in computing (on a very small scale) by constructively adding to society, I also still fail to see how this is somehow a negative action that will force four boys per year out of computing. Again, this is not a zero-sum game; we need those four girls per year in computing IN ADDITION to all the boys currently in computing. By increasing the number of people with high tech skills, Ken is clearly adding to our society as far as I can see.

Oh, and by the way... "But do you really think we should do nothing about unfair treatment we see because somewhere else in the world something is worse..." No, I do not think that. I was merely trying to understand the scale and perspective of what you were trying to say by asking a probing question. Some friendly advice: you might come across as more of a debater and less of a troll if you allow people to actually answer your questions before attacking them based on the worst possible response. Since my answer to your question is no, your entire last paragraph is unnecessary and flammatory. Think of this as a face-to-face conversation - would you pose to someone a question and then respond to one possible answer before they had given theirs?

Anonymous said...

Oh. We don't agree Gavin. I do not believe that boys have a natural advantage in computing technologies.

I don't think that boys are any more intelligent than boys. I don't think there are any skills that boys have that girls don't have.

I think that girls are less likely to be interested in computing because, usually, they lack the obsessive nature that males have when they are confronted with problems.

And so there's a trend that girls don't choose the field as often. The fact that Ken now sees more girls interested in computing now than in times past is evidence that there are fewer cultural attitudes today preventing the girls who do like computing from going into it. But that doesn't mean the natural trend isn't there.

I don't see why boys should be barred from any special mentoring program, just because of their sex.