Interview With Voice Actress Tara Strong of Teen Titans Go!

Return of the old gang in Teen Titans Go! (Courtesy Cartoon Network)
Return of the old gang in Teen Titans Go! (Courtesy Cartoon Network)

The new series Teen Titans Go! premieres Tuesday, April 23, on Cartoon Network at 7:30 PT/ET with rebroadcasts in the DC Nation programming block on Saturday mornings at 10:30 am. Teen Titans Go! features the return of Teen Titan characters and cast, embroiled in situations more mundane than saving the world. Our guest, Tara Strong, will once again voice the character of Raven.

GeekMom: It’s a pleasure to speak to someone with such a rich, diverse resumé. My kids are deeply involved with anime, manga, cartoons, comics, and video games– so this opportunity to speak to you is a thrill for us. They loved a lot of the shows and movies that you contributed to. You have an amazing portfolio—Not just Twilight Sparkle on My Little Pony, but Dil on Rugrats and Raven on Teen Titans, Bubbles on Powerpuff Girls, Ben Tennyson on Ben 10, and Timmy on Fairly Odd Parents, among hundreds of others. Continue reading Interview With Voice Actress Tara Strong of Teen Titans Go!

Women in Technology: Get With the Picture

Dakster Sullivan is a Woman in Tech! Image: Dave Liew
Dakster Sullivan is a Woman in Tech! Image: Dave Liew

As a woman in technology, I hear a lot about the lack of women in the field.

While I was in college, I noticed that I was usually the only female in the class. My teachers treated me the same as the guys and my male classmates never seemed to care that I was a woman. After I graduated and started attending events like Microsoft’s annual Tech Ed, I realized just how much of a minority women are.

The thing that keeps catching my attention, though, is how much of an issue people want to make out of it.

Believe it or not, the technology field wasn’t always a “man’s” arena.  It wasn’t until recent years that women became a downward statistic. A few of the reasons blamed for the decline are the fear of sexual harassment, women not being smart enough, and the tech world not being friendly enough to women.

Since these days there are more men than women in the technology-focused careers, I can understand the fear of sexual harassment and discrimination. I also understand that those same things happen in almost all careers and to both men and women. (Nursing comes to mind.)

Image: J. Howard Miller
Image: J. Howard Miller

I’ve had just as many negative experiences with women as I have men in IT. While at Tech Ed in 2009, I was approached with smiles from most of the men and with icy tones from many of the women. In one video taken at CES, a marketing booth babe made the comment that “I don’t know any women that would choose the tech world over say shopping, or cooking, or something like that.” Just goes to show the women can be just as sexist toward other women as men.

Some seem to believe that the lack of women in IT is because women are just not that good at computers and technology.

I once read that one reason you don’t see a lot of women programmers is because women are not good at it. Let me set the record straight; back when computers first started out, there were more women than men doing the programming. I’ve taken programming classes and passed with a high grades. The reason I don’t program is not because I’m not any good, it’s because I don’t enjoy it. The same could be said for other women and men that prefer other areas of IT over programming.

Continue reading Women in Technology: Get With the Picture

WANTED: Rosie the Programmer

Rosie the Riveter
Rosie the Riveter, source from Flickr Commons

It’s a pretty uniform feeling among geeks with daughters: We want to raise strong, smart, independent girls who can stand above stereotypes.

So when I’m faced with marketing geared toward girls, I feel a mixture of emotions. Part of me is excited to see something cute and girly, and part of me is outraged at the stereotypes. Sometimes I feel feminists need to stand down so we can allow a little pink into our lives, and sometimes I am that feminist.

When I see Computer Science being marketed towards girls, I am especially torn. Being the only female programmer on my team (over and over, across my academic and professional career), I wouldn’t mind seeing more women in Computer Science. I chose this field accepting the men-to-women ratio as it was and it doesn’t bother me in the least, but a little variety couldn’t hurt either. Go CS girls, go!

On the flip side, there’s a fine line between encouraging females into Computer Science and making girls feel they are a demographic that needs special handling and treatment. Sometimes I just want to yell: Look at me, I’m a girl and I can read boy posters just fine! Oh, this computer is not pink and yet I will touch it! I appreciate the extra help and the special attention, but I can do computing and I can do it myself, thankyouverymuch.

The topic came up again recently upon finding the new-to-me website. Immediately I thought: “Girls in CS, yay! Oh wait, should I feel insulted?” There’s always that moment of doubt whether I’m being supported or targeted. In the last week I’ve been visiting the website often, just trying to make up my mind: How can we help more girls choose Computer Science? I took a convoluted path just to finally end up in CS, what would have convinced me as a teen to consider CS without the twisted path of self-discovery? Would finding resources like Dot Diva have helped me?

WBGH (a leading producer of educational media) and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) joined forces in 2008 to produce NIC, the New Image for Computing initiative. NIC’s original goal was to lure teens from the most underrepresented groups in Computer Science, namely African American and Hispanic teens, by revamping the image of computing. After a market research, they were surprised to find that the interest in Computer Science within the African American and Hispanic boys was fairly high despite their low attendance in the field, meanwhile girls across all races showed the lowest level of interest.

DotDiva market research data on interest in CS, by gender and race
Dot Diva market research data on interest in CS, by gender and race

From such findings, NIC changed their goal to focus on girls only and Dot Diva was born. This week I got the chance to chat with Julie Benyo, who was the principle investigator at the time the initiative was first funded, and she was willing to answer a few of my questions for me:

From the findings of the market research, how did you decide what content would be provided on

What we heard from girls during our market research (and in our experience with Dot Diva’s older sister project, Engineer Your Life), was that if they thought of computing at all, it was within the context of sitting alone in a dark room writing code all day. When we asked them what they wanted in a career, they said they wanted to work collaboratively with other people, be creative, and do something meaningful. Therefore, on the web site, that’s the side of computing we wanted to show. In fact, when we spoke with young women in the field, they all told us that those were exactly the characteristics that attracted them to their jobs, so it was easy to feature them and their work. Also, we know that high schoolers are aspirational, but they don’t aspire to be 50 year old women, so we chose women much closer in age to the girls themselves. I don’t believe that any of the women featured on the site was over the age of 30 at the time we worked with them.

Has there been other tactics developed in addition to the Dot Diva website?

On the Web site, there’s a parents and educators section that’s got lots of downloadable resources, including an annotated PPT presentation that educators can use in presentations to girls, a databank of free images folks can use to spruce-up their own recruiting efforts, and other materials.

In addition to the Web site, we have other free material — a poster, a brochure for girls, and a brochure (in 3 languages) for parents.

Has the NIC initiative considered the effects of popular media (namely TV shows) on career choices in teens? Is that why Dot Diva included a webisode?

We certainly know that TV and other media are important to girls, but we didn’t have enough funding for TV, and with the growing popularity of online media, we decided to do a webisode. We originally wanted this to be a 10-part series, and we have the outline for all 10, but we’ve been unsuccessful in securing funding for more episodes, so…

We scripted the initial webisode as an introduction to the entire series. So, while the one that’s available may seem shallow in terms of its focus on computing, we wanted to introduce the characters and get folks to “know” them before we went too much farther into what it means to be into computing. Also, we wanted the 2 main women characters to be polar opposites in terms of personalities in order to show that there’s no one TYPE that goes into computing.

Is there current or future work being made to add more content to the Dot Diva website?

The group at ‘GBH continues to seek funding to support and grow the initiative in the future, but it’s been a slow slog.

There is a grant pending with the National Science Foundation, but that’s all that’s going on at the moment. Unfortunately, everyone associated with the project is supported on grants, so unless there’s money, no one is spending any time on the project.

Those of us who “used” to work on it still occasionally post to the Dot Diva Facebook page, but this is because we truly believe in the initiative and can’t let it go, even though we’re no longer paid or officially associated with the site or WGBH.

It is nice to see people working with such dedication toward helping kids find their path. Sadly, funding is a recurring problem for well-meaning initiatives and we’ll have to continue to rely on Hollywood to break the computing stereotypes. While we’re not proud to admit the pull that TV has towards our life choices, the impact is undeniable. For example, physics experienced a boom in interest partly due to the popular show Big Bang Theory.

Spinning science in a positive light on TV to boost STEM attendance is no new concept. In 2005, Pentagon research grants totaling nearly $25,000 were used to train scientists on screenplay writing. The goal was to encourage more Americans teens to major in STEM fields to avoid an imminent crisis in scientific jobs vacancies for defense laboratories, many of which require citizenship or permanent residency.

I am not immune to the Hollywood effect, I nearly abandoned my career in programming to apply to med school because of Grey’s Anatomy. Yes, you’re allowed to laugh at me for that one. My point is, if we hope to see more girls major in Computer Science, we need a TV show with a female programmer who can kick butt and take names.

Empowering Professional Women

One of the challenges many moms face is returning to the workforce after they’ve had children. Some decide to do it right away, others wait a year and still others wait until their kids are in school. It’s a very personal and at times very difficult decision that is different for every family. Whenever it happens, returning to work, either in the same field or by starting your own business, provides a unique set of challenges for women. How do you get started? How do you reconnect with your peers? How do you find them in the first place?

The National Association of Professional Women (NAPW) is a group whose goal is to help professional women overcome those challenges. This nationwide organization holds meetings and events across the country through local chapters and gives women the chance to meet professionals both online and in person to support and encourage their professional success.

On November 18th the NAPW is hosting the First Annual Midwest Conference for Women to gather professional women in the Midwest and help them learn how to “re-brand, refresh and reconnect” within their work life. If you’re getting back into the workforce or learning how to work your own business, then check out this conference and the NAPW site for information about local opportunities to restart your career path.

Education Week + Labor Day Week = Mike Rowe.

When you live with a pack of boys, like I do, people like Mike Rowe tend to be your heroes. The Discovery Channel is our go-to channel when the family gathers around the TV.  We watch our fair share of Sons of Guns, Deadliest Catch, Mythbusters and American Loggers, but when it comes to mom’s favorite show, Dirty Jobs wins every time.  And it’s mostly because of what Mike Rowe brings to the table.

Mike Rowe, Discovery Channel

I’ve respected his show for years, not just because it appeals to my whole gang at once, but because I loved the respect he gives the men and women he visits in each show. The premise of the show, participating in the dirty jobs that keep our country functional, means that Mike hangs out with a lot of people who aren’t necessarily respected in their communities, as much as they should be. After all, who says, “Good for you!” when the guy they meet says he empties sewers for a living? But Mike never looks down on them. Instead, he goes in with an attitude of reverence. And humor, of course, which makes the show a hit. Along with my own husband, Mike is exactly the type of man I want my boys emulating when it comes to good character and hard work.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a story about my old buddy Mike, on an episode of CBS Sunday Morning this week. Every story I’ve ever seen on Mike has just verified my positive perceptions of him, and this story was no different.  It was fun to see another recap of the winding career path that led him to Dirty Jobs. And then I found out something new about Mike. He’s dedicated himself to a cause I feel strongly about — rethinking how we educate our high school students.

I have two children who have recently graduated from high school. One knew exactly what he wanted to do in life, from the time he was six. It is a career that requires a college degree. Today he is tucked into a tiny dorm room, in his second week of college, and loving every minute of it. His sister didn’t have such specific career plans.

Through all of her high school years her counselor pushed her to take college prep classes. She had trouble finding her motivation, when she didn’t have any desire to go to college. My daughter is not the stereotypical lazy teen who just wants to live in our basement her whole life. Quite the opposite, in fact. She couldn’t wait to get out on her own. She wants her own career and her independent life path. Academics just wasn’t necessarily the way she was going to get there.

And she’s not alone. There are lots of kids who don’t necessarily need to go to college to find a good career. During his years filming Dirty Jobs, my friend Mike Rowe started to see this problem too. He saw that there were a lot of hard working Americans who found very happy, productive, lucrative careers, without the aid of a four year degree. Then he found out that, although our country is struggling with high unemployment numbers, there are some job categories out there that can’t find workers to hire. In his own words:

Mike Rowe, Senate Hearings May 2011

“Right now, American manufacturing is struggling to fill 200,000 vacant positions. There are 450,000 openings in trades, transportation and utilities. The skills gap is real, and it’s getting wider. In Alabama, a third of all skilled tradesmen are over 55. They’re retiring fast, and no one is there to replace them. Alabama’s not alone. A few months ago in Atlanta I ran into Tom Vilsack, our Secretary of Agriculture. Tom told me about a governor who was unable to move forward on the construction of a power plant. The reason was telling. It wasn’t a lack of funds. It wasn’t a lack of support. It was a lack of qualified welders.”

This is the message he wanted to convey, in his testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in May of this year. He feels it’s time to call out the education system and reset it in a way that benefits our kids, and our country. On Labor Day in 2008 he launched the website It’s basically a PR website for hard work and the people willing to do it.  It’s packed with information, from how our workers can train for these jobs, to actual job postings in these fields.

“I believe we need a national PR Campaign for skilled labor, a big one,” Rowe said. “Something that addresses the widening skills gap head-on, and reconnects the country with the most important part of our workforce.”

If you have a small to medium sized crush on Mike Rowe, as many of us GeekMom are not afraid to admit we do, this is just another reason to love the work he does and the causes he supports (did I mention he has a new PSA, supporting breast cancer research, because his mom is a breast cancer survivor?).

In digging around online to write this post I came across a somewhat long, but very entertaining post on the Wired website, where Mike answers viewers questions for the Reddit cameras. If you don’t have 45 minutes to watch the whole thing, scroll up to minutes 39 through 42. He eloquently puts into words the essence of his new skilled labor crusade.

It’s pretty appropriate, as we examine the many sides of education this week on, that we not forget some of the overlooked jobs that keep our country running. Some of the jobs you don’t find on the guidance counselor’s lists, but are important just the same. The jobs we’re entertained by when Mike Rowe does them on our TV, and the jobs that might provide a satisfying career option for some of our kids. if we’ll only open up our minds enough to put them on the list.

So You Want to Be a Video-Game Developer? Here’s How.

Nintendo of America’s Washington headquarters. Flickr photo by JTWilcox courtesy of Creative Commons.

If you or your geeklings harbor dreams of working as a video-game developer, here’s the inside scoop from three producers of The Malgrave Incident, the latest  Mystery Case Files game and the series’ first title for the Wii.

Nintendo’s Azusa Tajima and Masa Miyazaki, along with producer Shawn Seavers and the team from Big Fish Games fielded GeekMom’s questions about what it takes to make it in their line of work and what skills aspiring designers and producers should bring to the table.

GeekMom: What kinds of college programs/majors are best for people interested in working in video-game development?

Big Fish Games: In general, choose a particular skill that interests you the most, but be sure to gain as much exposure to the other areas of game development as you can. For example, if you’re studying programming, make sure to take classes in art and design. Try to be well-rounded because everything is connected.

Nintendo: It is hard to say which college programs/majors are best because it takes a variety of people in different professions and skills to develop a video game, but if you like programming and you’re interested in developing a video game, we would recommend trying your best to become an excellent programmer first. On the other hand, we feel that it is also important to expose yourself to various different activities and experiences in your everyday life. Not many people know this, but there is an accredited 4-year college devoted to educating people in video-game development. Students can earn Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degrees, and there is also a Master’s program in computer science. Kids who are seriously interested in making a career in the video game industry should check out DigiPen Institute of Technology, based a short distance from Nintendo of America’s headquarters in Redmond, WA.


GM: What type of internship or summer job experience would help, given that video-game company internships might be geographically impossible for a lot of kids?

Big Fish Games: This is a tough one due to geographical limitations. If there are simply no game companies nearby, you could consider web development work. This combines planning and technical skills with art and design sensibilities. You could also create several smaller games or concept proofs to show that you have the creativity and the drive to create fun experiences. Creating games in Flash is another way to demonstrate creativity and technical prowess.


GM: Beyond an interest in gaming, what skills/aptitudes make a great video-game developer?

Big Fish Games: The best games are often the simplest ideas. Having an ability to identify the source of something that is “fun” is very important.

Nintendo: We would say that the ability of seeing things from different angles/perspectives is key to a great video-game developer and innovation.


GM: Can you describe the different jobs available at a company like Big Fish? What is the corporate culture like?

Big Fish Games: One look at the careers page on our website and you’ll see that we’re a diverse, customer-orientated company with a lot of different needs. There’s a need for business, production, engineering, accounting, and customer support just to name a few!  The culture here is great. There are so many talented people here who value collaboration and open, honest communication. We’ve got a beautiful office located on the shores of Elliott Bay in Seattle. We’ve got teams for soccer, bowling, volleyball, softball… It’s not uncommon to see people playing board games at lunch—or someone zipping by on kick scooter! There’s definitely a culture of fun, and I think it shows in everything we do.