From the archives: an interview with social media researcher Danah Boyd, originally published in May 2010.
photo by Robert Scoble
What is your name, age, and location?
Danah Boyd, 32, Cambridge, MA.
What is your profession?
I am a Researcher at Microsoft Research and Fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society…. In English: I am a scholar who studies how social media is incorporated into people’s daily practices, focusing primarily on the ways in which youth adopt social media.
What did you study in school and what degrees do you have?
I did my undergraduate degree at Brown University where I technically majored in computer science but did a thesis that combined gender studies, psychology, and computer science. I did my master’s at MIT’s Media Lab where I focused on “sociable media.” I did my PhD at UC Berkeley in “Information.”
What was your first job?
My first job was working as an office cleaner for my mom’s office. That was under the table… My first above-board job was as a “Sandwich Artist” for Subway.
Who or what inspired you to break into your current line of work?
Oh, gosh… it was a long iteration with lots of different influences. My undergrad advisor Andy van Dam was the one who gave me a template of what it meant to be an academic. My mentor Genevieve Bell gave me the taste for anthropology. My mother taught me how to challenge the status quo with a smile. My advisor Peter Lyman showed me the most effective ways of playing good cop, bad cop. That’s just the tip of the iceberg… So many people were critical to me becoming who I am. I would not be here today without them.
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has helped your career?
Many in the technology industry desperately want to include women – as speakers at conferences, employees in companies, advisors, etc. Because of this, I’ve seen numerous doors open. This has been especially critical since I’m young. But folks in the tech industry are willing to take a risk to be inclusive. I’ve been able to leverage open doors to get in the room so that I can then make a case for why I should stay in the room.
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has hindered your career?
I will never forget two incidents early on in my career related to hiring and gender. It was mid-year and I was trying to find an internship. I applied for an internship at Company X and when I got to the interview, the interviewer looked at me and said, “I thought they got rid of all women in computer science by now?” Separately, at a graphics conference, I walked up to a Disney recruiter booth and asked if there were internships available. I was told that there were no internships for artists. I explained that I was a developer and I was looking for software engineering positions. The response I got: “But you’re a girl!” I learned not to take these situations personally, but they always stuck with me.
Who is your role model or mentor (alive or dead)?
I am lucky to have numerous role models and mentors, all who play different roles in my life. Mimi Ito, Henry Jenkins, Andy van Dam, Peter Lyman (RIP), Genevieve Bell, Clay Shirky, John Palfrey, and John Seely Brown are probably the most significant ones. So many people have given me opportunities and let me see possible futures that I could never have imagined. I am deeply grateful to all of them.
If you could give one piece of advice to a woman starting out in your field, what would it be?
Find your own unique path and build connections to people who will support you in all of your endeavors. You can never succeed alone or without passion. And it’s crucial to find your own voice and sing loud and clear.
– Interview by Haley Hogan