New Wikipedia Subject: Kathy Sierra

All of the talk about last week's BlogHer conference reminded me of an effort I began last December to add overlooked female technologists to Wikipedia. In a discussion with Shelley Powers, I said that the encyclopedia is one area where gender disparity is easy to rectify. Someone just has to take the time to write comprehensive, neutral biographies that will pass muster with the site's editors.

A person's presence in Wikipedia tends to attract new bios for people of similar background and relative fame, as you can see by scanning the encyclopedia for any male techblogging publicity whore who ever trampled somebody in pursuit of a microphone. Writing a half-dozen bios on notable female geeks should spark other Wikipedians to do the same.

Towards that end, I submitted a new biography entry today on computer book author and recent OSCON keynoter Kathy Sierra:

Kathy Sierra (b. June 19) is a programming instructor and game developer who created the Head First series of books on computer programming with her husband Bert Bates.

The series, which began with Head First Java in 2003, takes an unorthodox, visually intensive approach to the process of teaching programming. Sierra's books in the series have received three nominations for Product Excellence Jolt Awards, winning in 2005 for Head First Design Patterns, and were recognized on Amazon.Com's yearly top 10 list for computer books from 2003-2005.

Sierra believes that her interest in cognitive science was motivated by her epilepsy, a condition for which she takes anti-seizure medication. "My interest in the brain began when I had my first grand mal seizure at the age of four," she wrote on her personal weblog

Before writing her first book, Sierra was the lead programmer on the computer games Terratopia, a 1996 children's adventure game released by Virgin Sound & Vision, and All Dogs Go to Heaven, a film-based game released as a free cereal premium by MGM.

Sierra was a master trainer for Sun Microsystems, teaching Java instructors how to introduce new Java technologies and developing certification exams. In 1998, she founded the programmer's community JavaRanch.

Sierra graduated college with a degree in exercise physiology and spend 10 years working in the fitness industry. She changed careers after attending programming classes at UCLA, later returning to teach a course on "new media interactivity" for UCLA Extension.

She lives in Boulder, Colorado with Bates, her daughter Skyler and several horses, including a rare Icelandic.


External links

I could use some advice on who to cover next, since the glaring omissions that immediately come to mind are a best-selling computer book author and syndication evangelist I've worked with professionally. Writing a bio on someone you know sparks an article for deletion war in which Wikipedians take numbers to rough up the person you covered for being insufficiently famous.


Jan Axelson

Somebody added an entry on Axelson last December.

I followed your syndication evangelist link to Jenny Levine's "the shifted librarian' site. I was interested in the concept for her presentation on "Information Shifting", about how the change from pursuing information to receiving information is and will be affecting libraries.

She says that the Net Generation already outnumbers the Baby Boomers, and that they expect information to come to them, rather than having to pursue it.

It wasn't that long ago that it was faster to find a fact by reaching for my reference library than to research it on the web. Levine describes the brave new world where the connected will be inundated with information. As she says, "Most of it may be noise, but focused information can come to you in new and more efficient ways than ever before."

This is well and good, but I'm tired of working, so I've decided to retire my brain. As Einstein said (or something like it), "Why should I bother to remember trivial facts, when I can look them up?" Exactly. I'm tired of making the effort to remember things, and search engines are efficient enough now that I can find just about anything I want to know on the web, so I'm putting my brain in neutral permanently. I think life will be much better this way.

I eagerly anticipate the day that technology is so advanced that I needn't remember people's names or even put them in a PDA, because a web-connected brain implant will take care of all such trivial matters, and my mind will have more time to just relax.

Some Wikipedians see the deletion process as a blood sport. I wonder what percentage of those are male.

I thought your favourite software development project manager would have instantly jumped to mind. She gave us one of the most obnoxious elements of Windows (and that's saying something): Belinda Gates!

There's an entry for Melinda, as it turns out, but it gives woefully short shrift to her work on Microsoft Bob. I may do some work there.

Kathy Sierra has a rock n' roll stage presence. She reminds me of Patti Scialfa, who everyone should know had a career in music before she met Bruce Springsteen.

I imagine the much better known "Melinda" has an entry. My regret is that her little known counterpart (well 704 pages of her on a Google search) is unsung, hence the nomination.

704 pages isn't nearly enough when you can't even get someone to write you up on Wiki.

Writing a bio on someone you know sparks an article for deletion war in which Wikipedians take numbers to rough up the person you covered for being insufficiently famous.

That's only half the equation. On the other side, you have "anti-deletionists" who strenously oppose deleting anything, which is why there is so much trivia in Wikipedia.

I suggesting checking with the person before initiating the process. A Wikipedia entry can be an "attractive nuisance" (i.e., troll-bait). Some people may not want the hassle of having to worry about playing whack-a-mole over vandalism of their entries.

I haven't asked anyone if they want to be in Wikipedia, because I think that it's against the spirit of the project to leave the decision up to them.

The only thing that should matter is if they are notable enough to be included.

Alluding to that discussion you had with Shelley Powers, you may be right about the group dynamics you observed where even when men were a 1/20th part minority, they still dominated the conversation.

But almost none of the women I know are reticent to express themselves, and if they're married, they have no problem asserting themselves within the context of the marriage.

I was thinking that perhaps even self-empowered women might yield to a 'group' mentality in a social setting, unconsciously. There could even be some biochemistry going on.

Hey Rogers, thank-you for doing this (and for even thinking of me in the first place for an entry). Like Seth has suggested, I've not been looking forward to this day...but if it was to happen sooner or later, I'm glad it was you--someone who took the time to be thoughtful about what went into the bio.

You got about 98% right, but I asked someone to edit a couple of parts about my personal life... "husband" was changed to "partner" and now it just says, "lives in Boulder with her Icelandic horses."

Thanks again... and I hope/believe that I'm low enough under the radar to not have anyone bother to mess with it, but given the number of trolls I see on my blog, I reckon I'll have to remember to check ; )

Cheers and thanks again. I'll be back with another comment on a couple of other women that I think should be in there.


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Your's faithfully,
Soumen Debnath.

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