Music for this Post: Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys
A girl I know is a computer science/theater double major. She builds computer algorithms at work. She is brilliant. She has also shared with me that in the last few decades, the number of women in the computer industry has drastically decreased. This was a total shock to me: I’d optimistically pictured an upward climb for women in corporate & science fields…
So imagine my joy at noticing AMC’s new show Halt and Catch Fire. Its a throwback to 1980’s Texas, when the PC was just a glint in the eyes of a few tech geniuses. I know relatively nothing about computers, and even less about their inner workings or history. But AMC built something that speaks not just to people like the girl I know, but girls like me too.
Disappointed in the wake of my computer science/theater double major’s news, I was want to find a ray of hope. I did, in the character Cameron Howe. Played with an awesome mix of spunk and vulnerability by Mackenzie Davis, Cameron is an unbridled genius, a college dropout turned programmer. She joins a group of outcast visionaries to build a portable PC, and her imagination tugs her toward the future. She sees computers for what they should be, pieces of a person’s life, not just adding machines. She’s like an ignorant prophet, her wild mind is her oracle.
The most striking thing about her passion is how feminine it seemed to me: she is unapologetically attached to the technology, to its emotional connections to life, approaching computers like a woman might approach friends and family.
This was really impressed on me when, in one pivotal episode, Cameron insisted that the new PC must have a personality, must engage with the user, must interact and converse as much as serve needs. To me, this felt entirely like a female perspective on machines–not just what they can do for you (which has often been a male approach of technology, among other things), but what they can be with you, how they can understand you. I believe that this speaks to traits like compassion and care, so often nurtured or expected in women. Men can certainly embody those traits, but I often find them more prevalent in the women I know…
Cameron brings womanliness back into an industry now dominated by men. She reminds everyone, even those who only use computers to watch Netflix shows, that machines are not just stacks of plastic and bunches of wires. They can be so much more when a compassionate human mind breathes life into the metal. The potential is there in Cameron Howe, who boldly names her creation after Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer, who just happened to be female.
Halt and Catch Fire is one season in, and available to buy on Amazon. Dig it.