Women in Tech: Maria "Ubergeeke" Webster

BlogHer Original Post

Meet Maria Webster, aka ubergeeke, an engineering student, geek, and chronicler of what women in tech are doing at .51. She answered some questions for me to give the BlogHer readers an opportunity to learn more about this interesting woman. Q: I noticed your blog, .51, or dotFiveOne, when you first registered at BlogHer and have been following you ever since. Your blog's tagline is "Geekspace for Women." Tell us a little about your reasons for starting the blog. A: Last spring, I was searching the web for sites about and for women in technology. As an engineer-in-training and a lifelong geek, I wanted a site that spoke to me personally about the technical interests I have. I wanted to see a site that focused on what women were doing in tech and not necessarily about the trials we face. I couldn't find such a site, and I was *very* surprised. So I built one. The whole purpose of dotFiveOne is to focus on what women are *doing*. There are many great sites for women who need support in their fields, who want to network with other women, who want to explore the challenges we experience in our endeavors. I want to celebrate our accomplishments. Q: I'm guessing from your "Geekspace for Women" blog description that you think women need more spaces on the web and in the public view. How do you think women are doing in the world of tech and engineering and science? A: We're doing wonderfully! The best part of blogging for dotFiveOne is the research I do every day. The results are fascinating - women building circuits, women diving the ocean depths, women on the space station, women exploring physics and biology, women working with robots. We are doing and accomplishing so much! Q: I get the impression from your posts about building your own PC and links to the IEEE Women in Engineering page that you're an engineer. What is your background? A: I had a typical geek start. I spent my grade-school years drawing multiplication tables for fun, my middle school years reading fantasy fiction, my high school years reading sci-fi and watching "Star Trek". The geekiness waned a bit during my first stint in college - like a lot of young, idealistic people, I was more interested in the social sciences than in the technical side of things, so I didn't get professional about technology until my late twenties. My interest in computers led to work in systems administration, and I've dabbled in that for over a decade. I decided to go back to school to finish my degree, and exposed myself to computer science and computer engineering before I settled on electrical engineering and physics. I love my coursework. My studies led to my involvement in amateur rockets, amateur radio, open source software and hardware, and basic gadgetry. I love hacking on things myself. Q: What kind of work do you do? A: My official title is "Development Engineer", but I'm essentially a renaissance woman: some web development, some systems administration, some technical writing, some quality assurance testing and regulatory exploration - whatever needs doing, I do. I often find that my personal projects run in parallel with whatever I'm working on for my job. Works out nicely. ;-) Q: You wrote Title IX In Science & Engineering: Doing The Best With What We've Got on BlogHer a while back. In it you "put your head on the chopping blog" to argue for quotas based on gender in Title IX laws. Do you still think things need to change in the Title IX laws? A: I don't think things need to change in the **laws**. I think the change needs to happen in the areas where those laws would be applied. Women are still under-represented in the STEM categories of our educational institutions, and we need a better plan for getting more women in those departments now. Q: You go by ubergeeke in most places. Seems like a great choice for you. If the engineering isn't enough to qualify you as an uber geek, you are also interested in the American Radio Relay League. What does that involve? A: Amateur Radio is a new hobby for me. I took the test for the Technician Class license last spring, and have a handheld radio, but I haven't spent a great deal of time chatting over the air with folks as I've been busy with other things. If other women are interested in that hobby, I suggest they check out the ARRL.org site, or visit dotFiveOne for more information. Q: I follow you on Twitter and sometimes get a laugh from your Twitter posts. For example, "up *WAY* past my bedtime. Hacking on hardware (is it ok to use a hammer to get a hard drive in a case?), sipping chianti, watching "Tron"." How much time and fun do you devote to putting things together? A: Honestly, I'm always hacking something. I've got hardware and projects strewn all across my office and workbench in various states of completion, and am always looking for more. I get a great deal of joy from tinkering with computers and gadgets and models and radios, etc. The list is endless. The more I learn, the more I want to tinker, and the more I tinker, the more I want to learn. It's a beautiful cycle. Some projects tie in to my work, most don't, but I spend quite a few hours every week tinkering on things, and get grumpy if I don't my "geek time". Q: What else do you do for fun besides hack on hardware? What's your relaxation time like? And, help me please, what is Tron? A: Read or watch science fiction. Cheer on the San Francisco 49ers, even though they're having a tough season (or two, or three). Play with my family. Collect music. Hack some more. ;-) "Tron" is a science fiction film starring Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner that was released in 1982. The premise is a geek's dream: a superhacker is sucked into a computer network and must eventually defeat a master program. Great stuff. Perfect for 2am tinkering! Q: Are you interested in or involved with Open Source? A: I'm very interested in open source hardware and software. I'm a Linux user (the openSUSE distribution) and try to use free open source software whenever I can, including Open Office and Firefox. On the hardware side, there are two projects I'm currently working on that are very exciting to me. I'm involved with the Portland State Aerospace Society, an amateur rocket group that uses open source software and has a very open approach to the hardware as well. I'm also working on a simple project using an Arduino board, which is a completely open hardware platform. I'm excited to try it! Q: What do you want to see happen in your future, either personally, on the web, or career-wise? A: Personally, my future includes a completed degree and a happy family, though not in that order. On the web, I'll continue to blog about all the contributions women are making to their geeky pursuits of choice. My goal is to expand dotFiveOne to include a forum for women to share their geekery with one another. Professionally, I want an engineering or tech job where tinkering is the norm and that lets me continue blogging at dotFiveOne. I'm sure that job is out there somewhere. ;-) Thanks to Maria for talking with BlogHer. You have our good wishes for success with your blog and for finding the perfect ubergeeky job when you complete your degree. -- Virginia DeBolt BlogHer Technology Contributing Editor Web Teacher First 50 Words


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