I find that everyone is geeky in their own way,” Chic Geek’s founder, Kylie Toh, says encouragingly.
Chic Geek is a volunteer-run, safe and supportive group that holds a place for women to try out technology in Calgary. It hosts meet-ups and seminars for the tech-curious, and next week, on November 16, will present their “Geeky Summit.” This summit will be the largest celebration of women in technology and entrepreneurship in Western Canada. It features a Keynote by the Minister of Service Alberta and the Status of Women, Stephanie McLean, Panels and Discovery Sessions hosted by women (ages-8-and-up) in several streams to appeal to participants’ Creative, Brainy, or Bossy sides.
But Kylie wasn’t always having fun, in such like-minded company. “To be honest, Chic Geek came from a real place of loneliness. I was so excited by the opportunity and energy of tech start-ups, and then I looked around and realised I was alone. I felt that there was no one here like me, that there are no other women who want to explore technical skills.”
Kylie knew this couldn’t really be the case, so she set out to find her tribe. In so doing, she created it. Chic Geek, which now has over 5000 members and regular events, has come together because of the friendships and opportunities that happen when you find your people.
Chic Geek also intentionally set out to make a safe space for women. “For us, this means you won’t be judged, you will never be the dumbest person in the room. Come, ask questions, and learn.”
Chic Geek draws mostly women from the ages of 20 to 30. They are early in their careers and hungry to learn. Kylie explains, “Technology is so broad, so we get a range of interests. The common thread is curiosity. Everyone wants to be better at their jobs. So we have a lot of interest in design, in HTML coding, how entrepreneurs can best run a website, and how to work best with male-dominated teams.”
Kylie sees Chic Geek as an entry level space. This environment encourages everyone to continue learning, and doesn’t shut women down. She explains: “We hope you will find something you love, something to sink your teeth into, something that inspires you to keep learning through your career.”
This recent “Top 40 under 40” Avenue Magazine alumnus’ personal challenge is still that her reluctance to explore comes down to her fear that she might not be good enough. She identifies that she had “Perfection Freeze” starting at a young age. Kylie now knows she is not alone, and not unique. And she is owning it.
The theme of the upcoming Geeky Summit is “Perfectionism.” Kylie confides, “Personally I’ve struggled with being a performer. I struggle with how to move forward when I’m afraid I’m not going to get it perfect the first time.”
For those wanting to attend the conference, Chic Geek offers a resource on its website on “How to Convince Your Boss” of the value of attending a networking and skills training conference. This is a good example of how Kylie understands her tribe, as she explains: “We put our community first and do our best to meet their needs.”
Kylie knows the need to support women in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) is profound. When asked about the future, her voice softens. “Where would I see Chic Geek in five years? That’s a tough question as I am trying to figure it out for here and now. I never thought when I was starting out that I would have quit my job to do this full time, that Chic Geek would become a non-profit with 5000 members. It just took on a life of its own.”
Kylie can see one future, “I would love to see Chic Geek chapters across Canada – independent and sustainable models for others to emulate.”