She’s chic, she’s cute, she’s a Computer Engineer? Really? Are you sure?

There’s been a lot of commentary, good and bad, about Barbie and her new “career”, but that’s not going to stop me from adding one more.

The Good The Bad
She’s got a geeky title… If you can’t read, you’d never guess her career…
The good side is that she’s a Computer Engineer. No, I don’t ‘know what that title really means either. I get the impression Mattel was trying to cram as many technical terms into a single title to make everyone happy. But hey, two technology-related terms in her title has got to be better than one, right?

As Don and I were discussing regarding this new Barbie, our granddaughter is definitely getting one and hopefully, one day, when she can read she’ll scrunch up her little face and ask us very seriously, “What’s a computer engineer?”

As many folks are saying, anything that raises awareness of technical careers for girls is a good thing.
Come on, really? Let’s be serious, Barbie here looks more like a typical teenage or college girl playing with her gadgets than she does an engineer. You could label her “End-user Barbie” or “Generation-D Barbie” and probably be more accurate.

But let’s say the young lady can read and asks mom and dad about “Computer Engineering.” What are they going to say?

Yeah, I’d love to hear that response as well. We can’t even get technical folks to agree on what is and is not cloud computing, I can’t imagine most young girls will come out that discussion any better aware of what “Computer Engineer” really means.
She is what some would call “geek chic” Creates unrealistic expectations
Let’s face it, the first career that comes to the mind of most people (men and women alike) when they see a fashionable woman is not engineer, or computer scientist, or programmer, or developer, or anything related to a hard science.

The fact that Barbie is, above all, a fashion doll has not escaped me and thus I did not expect to see Barbie dressed like, well, me. But still, her fashion sense reinforces the notion that you don’t have to give up looking good to be a geek.

It’s not bad enough that women in technology suffer from some pretty negative stereotypes but now Barbie comes along with her unrealistic proportions, flawless complexion, fashion sense, and shampoo-ad perfect hair. Future male engineers are certain to form unrealistic expectations regarding their female counterparts.

Imagine their surprise to learn that technical women – like men - come in all shapes and sizes and colors and their hair never stays perfect in a humidity-controlled data center. That dry air is not your friend, I’m just saying. Barbie really needs a static strap – just in case.

That all said, I voted for the new career, heck yeah. Why not? But I doubt that her mere existence will have a significant impact on the choices the next generation of women make for their careers. My sisters and I each had a Barbie, sure, but she had no career – just a house, a private jet, a yacht, and a lot of clothing that wasn’t much use to her once she was missing her head. No, I won’t hazard a guess how she paid for those things. Honestly, at those ages, career choices weren’t exactly something with which we were concerned. Barbie could have been a neurosurgeon or a rocket scientist or a waitress and we wouldn’t have cared. Although plastic surgeon Barbie might have come in handy if she came with a restoration kit to fix the crack in Barbie’s neck that always seemed to result from taking her head off too many times. 

A love of technology and computers doesn’t come from whether or not you play with a doll, it comes from within – the same as it does for men. That passion, that drive, isn’t something you can attempt to foster by giving a girl a doll or prevent from blooming by denying her the same. Studies are showing a lack of exposure to people and information about the field is what keeps kids – male and female – from pursuing computer science. Anecdotally this certainly seems to hold true: my mother is a technologist, once a programmer, and three of her four children (only one of whom is male) hold degrees in computer science and mathematics. The studies are backing this up – details, not dolls, are what’s needed to encourage young women – and men – to dive into technology related careers.