Barbie Brouhaha

This week’s Internet Ragestorm is about a really ridiculous Barbie book about computer programming (article also appears on gizmodo if you encounter issues) that includes Barbie “only creating the design ideas, ha ha” and “needing to get Steven and Brian to do the heavy lifting of programming.” And then accidentally cause she’s an idiot infecting hers and another’s computer with a virus carried on a USB drive (a cute heart-shaped one!)

Now, I don’t want to join the Barbie hate because…back in my youth I *adored* Barbie. I remember getting the “Pretty in Pink” (not related to the movie) Barbie for maybe my 9th or 10th birthday and being in heaven. She had like three outfits that came with the doll, which was huge. I think that was the one that had the push button in her back that you could press and her arm would move, like she was applying makeup or perhaps giving a regal wave.

I loved that doll, and had a collection of other Barbies as well as a huge collection of clothes my grandmother made for my Barbie. I still have that box of clothes, even while I lament the wonky body image Barbie presents. There’s something about the love and care my grandmother put into making teeny tiny little tops and skirts and coats for my dolls that transcends body image questions, that miniaturizes conversations about appearance and comes down to family and love and doing things for others. When I think about the hours my grandmother must have spent making tiny stitches, measuring against her own sample doll (I think a reject from me or one of my sisters. Maybe the one who had an unfortunate hair salon accident) and sewing in little strips of velcro or snaps for my small fingers to work, it takes my breath away. So, anyway, point is, no Barbie hate here. (Besides, I’ve recently defended Sparkle Science. I’m a fan of geeking out in whatever direction your geek muse takes you.)

However, I can hate the messages in the book, right? Because the idea that Barbie is “only a designer” makes my head burst into flames. I am/was “only a designer” and the work I did was just as relevant, just as essential, as the work of the programmers. In fact, my role on projects was often to tell the programmers what to do. I had to figure out what the program needed to do, how the user would interact with it, what ranges of inputs might come from the user, and then convey that in a sensible way to the programming team. As the programming team produced code to represent the designs that I and other designers gave them, I’d have to test the application to make sure it worked according to specs.  Every member of a team has a valuable contribution to make, but dismissing the designer’s work as “only coming up with design ideas” is … unfair at best, slanderous at worst. Perhaps I’m more pissed about the slight toward technology designers than I am about the rest of it. Sometimes what makes you mad is more about you than the thing that made you mad, eh? 😉

At any rate, this particular rage storm seems to have had an impact on Barbie parent, Mattel, as they have reportedly pulled this book from Amazon and apologized. But it also got us all talking about technology and women in a unified way for once. That was fun. As was this really excellent refactoring of the Barbie I Can Be a Computer Engineer book, which should be required reading for any considering a career in tech. (Relevant timing note: This was written back in January of ’14, predating the current anger-fest.) I particularly loved this line:

In fact, in technical professions, the designer / architect is the senior position on the project.  – See more at:

Damn skippy.

Being a solutions-oriented person rather than a complainer, I’ll conclude the post with some great programming resources for kids and STRONGLY encourage you to look into these, introduce children in your lives to computer programming (early AND often) and to see about learning more about computer programming yourself. The week of code is coming up in early December, no better time than now!

Frozen-themed activity from (direct link to the activity)
Article with links to three great programming games that teach programming while you play
Learn Python on
Try out Code Combat, which was the reason my 13 year old son was late going to bed tonight
And be sure to check out hour of code during the week of December 8

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