Barbie, Remixed: I (really!) can be a computer engineer.

Such a great and refreshing post from Casey Fiesler, thanks for sharing your experience

Casey Fiesler

I am a PhD student in a computing department, so I guess it’s not surprising that my social media feeds have been full of outrage over Barbie’s “computer engineering” skills. The blog post that originally went viral appears to be sporadically down due to heavy traffic, but The Daily Dot also has a good summary of the problematic book titled Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer. The problematic part is that, as far as I can tell, the steps for becoming a computer engineer if you’re Barbie are:

  1. Design a videogame.
  2. Get a boy to code it for you.
  3. Accidentally infect your computer with a virus.
  4. Get a boy to fix it for you.
  5. Take all the credit for these things yourself.

And the problem isn’t even that Barbie isn’t a “real” computer scientist because she isn’t coding. (I am one of those mostly-non-coding computer scientists myself, though now…

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How are teams different from groups?

One of the key aspects of my research lies in the relationship dynamics and patterns of individuals that work within teams.
Teams essentially represent a form of organizing people who work together. Although nowadays this is common practice, it has not always been like this.
The traditional way of organizing as described by Taylor (1923) as Scientific Management was that each individual would work independently from the others, low interdependence and repetitive work being the norm.
Nowadays it is very hard to imagine working like this. The technological revolution, globalization and the rise of flat hierarchies makes it very hard for someone to we have all experienced teamwork at least once. With the rise of social media and collaborative work we do not even think of our work as independent from others.
A team is a specific type of group that encompasses two or more individuals that are interdependent in their tasks, that work towards a shared goal and that share responsibility for the outcomes. Performance and cooperation are characteristics of teams.
From a psychological point of view, two processes are vital for teams:
– social identification – us vs. them
– social representation – shared views, beliefs, common worldview (Hayes, 1997)
Hayes underlines that in order to cooperate and achieve its goals, a team must have:
– independence
– responsibility
– power to operate

Why do organizations use teams?
According to Levi (2007), organizations use teams to fulfill four main functions:
– day-to-day operations (production teams)
– deal with special issues (provide solutions)
– manage coordination problems (action-based, advice)
– planning and managing transitions (active change agents)
– create projects
Teams can have different activities and range from sport to management teams.
Depending on the time and space of their activity, teams can be:
– temporary
– ongoing/colocated
– action based
– virtual

An important fact about teams is that they are more than just a sum or collection of individuals.
Teams have objectives, power and mutual influence.
In organizations there are three main types of getting organized: the work group (loosely based, temporary, experts that come from different departments to solve issues); the traditional team and the self-managed team (shares leadership, decisions and power).