Role playing and role modeling

Yesterday, a new Barbie joined the menagerie of Barbies at our house.  (actually 2—of course I had to order one for myself!)  My 3.5 year old daughter, who loves Barbies, was excited to have a new Barbie, of course.  And I was excited to share with her that this Barbie was special, because she has the same (approximately, anyway) job as her mom and dad.

Usually, when the Barbies come out, the pretend play trends towards dance class, or school, or taking care of animals, or (my personal favorite) a mash-up involving flying, castles, Shrek, hot lava, and dragons.  But with this Barbie, the play was definitely….different.  See, Barbie went straight to work.  Where she worked, and took some phone calls, and worked some more, then went home to cook dinner and then—you guessed it—work on “her project”.

Anyone who knows me IRL, or who’s read this blog for more than 5 minutes, knows how passionate I am about diversifying the field of CS, of opening up the possibilities of CS particularly to women, so that women will start seriously seeing themselves as, and considering themselves to be, computer scientists.  And of course I extend this to my own daughter.  I want her to see computer science as something that she can do and that she’ll want to do:  a very cool, interesting, exciting, innovative field.  So far she’s very interested in computers—if she had her way, she’d play games on my iPhone all day, and we just gave her a hand-me-down laptop so she can start exploring and playing on her own.  So it pained me a bit to see how her play reflected how she sees me, and her dad, as computer scientists:  someone who works all the time.

I want my daughter to associate computer science with fun, and whimsy, and discovery, and not just long hours of work.  But of course the reality is that I, and my husband, do work long hours, and clearly she sees that and has absorbed that.  And of course she hears how excitedly we talk about our jobs, and our projects, at home, but at this age seeing is more powerful than hearing.

My wish is that I can do a better job of role modeling for her what it means to be a computer scientist.  I want to make sure she sees, and notices, the love and passion and excitement I have for my work.  I want her to recognize that I’m doing stuff that actually will make the world a tangibly better place.  I want her to see that you can be passionately involved in your work and still have time for other passions outside of work too.  And maybe next time we play Barbies, Computer Engineer Barbie will join the other Barbies on the hunt for dragons….and then they’ll all go back to the Barbie Townhouse and code to their hearts’ content!