Interview with Phil and Keila Banks: Part 1 (Phil)

I first met Phil Banks a few years ago when I attended the Southern California Linux Expo (SCaLE). When I saw that his daughter would be speaking at Federated Conferences Week next month in San Jose, I knew I had to interview both of them. In Part 1, Phil talks about how his family is involved in open source. He also discusses the extra effort he makes to help his daughter, Keila, be involved in technology and connect with other women in IT. Read Part 2 to hear from Keila, Phil's 11-year-old daughter and a speaker at WiAC '13. Keila will be giving a talk called Free to Be a Kid.

2013 Federated Conferences Week

Rikki: I know that you and your wife have been active with SCaLE since before Keila was born. How did you get involved with SCaLE?

Phil: The year before SCaLE started, I'd decided that I would get more involved with open source software because I was a huge proponent of it. I joined quite a few user groups in Los Angeles county that had to do with anything open source. One of our chairs, Orv Beach, sent out a request to anyone who wants to get involved and help make a Linux convention, and I immediately responded the second I read it that he could count me in and my whole family. My wife and two sons were talked into helping with registration and everything else; my younger son David was only four, so he'd join in later.

Rikki: Tell us about the outreach efforts SCaLE organizers make to get kids involved with technology.

Phil: We realised that a great way to get kids involved in open source early was to start reaching out to children. I believe it was one of our chairs, Gareth, who came up with the "Next Generation" track that was focussed on getting young users to get accustomed to using Linux and other open source tools. After doing a tour with the kids around the expo floor and vendors making what they do more understandable to children, we've expanded it to reaching out to high schools (of which we had a whole bus full come this year). I've since given talks at elementary schools and a high school and encouraged them to come next year. We have a lot more in store that we haven't totally worked out yet but it will be absolutely fantastic.

Rikki: What role has Keila played at SCaLE over the years?

Phil: Keila had not been involved in SCaLE like her brothers until last year. We felt she was a little young and wouldn't get as much out of it. We trusted the boys a little bit more to be autonomous around the expo floor and throughout registration at an earlier age, but the venue had grown quite a bit from the size it was when my two older sons, Phillip Jr. and Hunter, were at our humble beginnings at USC. This year, aside from giving a lecture, she also helped in the media room making last-minute signage and posters in GIMP, which even surprised me.

Rikki: How has being a father of a daughter changed your outlook on the tech field and women's roles in it?

Phil: A whole lot. My father had a great saying that always stuck with me. He said, "At a certain point it will not be about what you know but who you know." I've always been good at having a good support system of people wherever I worked, friends or family that championed my cause because I'd reciprocate the same. Having three boys, I honestly knew the time would come where I would have to learn to like things like ballet and cheerleading, but the rest was going to be hard. It wasn't. I remembered that I targeted my career objective when I was young because of a female IT director who was my boss. From there, I decided that for Keila, I would have to focus on building a different kind of support group for her along with what I already had โ€” one with successful IT women. Thus, I reached out to many in the field who I'd met โ€” including you โ€” to help embrace her and give her a little guidance as I may not know the pitfalls that may lie ahead in her development. I'd like to thank all of you because it has been incredible.

Rikki: What would you like to see change in tech fields to make STEM careers more inviting to young women?

Phil: That's the easy part. More accessibility to enthusiastic role models they can relate to. My dad was an electrical engineer and worked on a space shuttle, and my uncle was a mathematician at the Pentagon. Minorities in tech fields are still few and far between. I loved tech and could relate to them. My dad also said, "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life." I've never worked, nor have they. I showed Keila how to enjoy the hard work, and she's not working; she's having fun and doing it on her own like I did. I want her seeing and being around more women who are enthusiastic about what they do.

Rikki: Anything you'd like to add?

Phil: I could always use all the help I can get, so I would love it if you'd reach out to us. Fortunately Keila will be speaking on June 1 at the Texas Linux Fest in Austin, Texas, and June 26 in San Jose, California, at the USENIX Women in Advanced Computing Summit (WiAC '13).

Rikki: Thanks, Phil and Keila! I look forward to seeing you at Texas Linux Fest and WiAC '13. I'll be working at the USENIX booth in Austin and also giving a talk (How to Recruit, Hire, and Retain a Diverse Team).

Also read:

7 practical reasons to teach children about open source

See video from WiAC '12:

Strategies for a Successful Career in Computing

Uncharted Paths

"Career Information and Workload Warriors - Time Saving Tips and Tricks" Presentation

"Overcoming My Biggest Roadblock, Myself" Presentation

"Staying Happy in System Administration" Presentation

Register by June 3 to take advantage of the early bird discount.