glittering katie ✨

🌰 Squirrels Who Code

April 27, 20184 min read

Comic of Tippy Toe, the squirrel, asking Squirrel Girl what she will study at university. Squirrel Girl reveals she'll be studying computer science! source: Spin’s interview with Ryan North

For the uninitiated, Squirrel Girl (or Doreen Green) is part squirrel, part girl, and entirely charming. She has the proportional speed and strength of a squirrel, rarely used knuckle spikes, and a deep sense of empathy. The comic’s creative team is Ryan North and Erica Henderson (soon to be Derek Charm — it is sad to see Erica go but I’m excited to see what comes next for both her and Doreen!).

Like everyone else in tech, I’ve seen my share of “computer things” in the media that are absolutely cringeworthy. I want to assure you that Squirrel Girl is not in that list. Ryan North has his master’s in computer science (with a focus in computational linguistics!) and boy does he bring the niche computer jokes.

But even if you’re not in tech, please do not let that deter you — Squirrel Girl is still a light, funny comic and she will often solve problems in a way that teaches the reader core computer science topics (like Squirrel Girl #11 which you can preview here)!

Doreen Green is a computer science student at Empire State University. When I first picked up this comic I was a computer science student at Oregon State University. We both value friendship and have thicc thighs. We’re both excitable and have a penchant for puns. We both kick butts and eat nuts.

Tbh I’m not a huge fan of nuts but reading Squirrel Girl made me start eating nuts more which is the dumbest thing but whatever here we are. Also the butts I kick are more figurative whereas Squirrel Girl does so more literally.

I love seeing myself represented but I’m only one demographic — Squirrel Girl also represents my friends. A tight group of computer science pals are featured in Squirrel Girl and together they analyze algorithms and combat crime. These friends are not sidekicks — they are just as important as Doreen in their adventures and they are all underrepresented minorities in tech.

Comic of Koi Boi and Chipmonk Hunk introducing themselves to their friend, Nancy. Nancy is confused why they think a mask would shield their identity. source: Retcon Punch

Nancy Whitehead, an African-American woman, is Doreen’s roommate and best friend. She doesn’t have super powers in the traditional sense but she is definitely the voice of reason within the bunch. Nancy also knits, sews, loves her cat (Mewnir), and writes fanfic (about her cat).

Tomas Lara-Perez (aka Chipmunk Hunk) is of latin descent and has similar powers to Squirrel Girl. Instead of talking to squirrels, he talks to chipmunks and has a chipmunk tail instead of a squirrel tail. Quite frequently female superheroes are just the “girl version” of the main male superhero so it’s nice to see this role reversed.

Ken Shiga (aka Koi Boi) has the powers of koi fish — he has marine zoopathy (can communicate with marine animals), can breath under water, strength/agility/etc and he can grow very slowly to fit the container he is in. Ken is transmasculine if not a trans man; there’s a subtle reveal when you see him in a binder.

Even the background students are fairly diverse in the computer science classes — I’ve noticed a better amount of women than you’d see in a real life computer science lecture hall. The diversity in the comic isn’t at the forefront of the narrative which gives me the feeling that it is normal in this world.

North and Henderson have created a world that normalizes diversity in tech. I hope my recommendation is clear: read Squirrel Girl and spread the good word. Help students see that diversity in computer science should be normal and show them that there are characters with whom they can identify. Find your local comic book store or consider supporting one of the organizations below or code.org by buying Squirrel Girl through smile.amazon.

After reading Squirrel Girl I bet you will feel absolutely optimistic — I know I always do. Use that happy energy and channel it through an organization that is working to boost diversity in tech! My list is short because I wanted to cover one organization for each character, but keep in mind that a lot of them intersect and there are plenty more out there.

Thank you, Ryan North and Erica Henderson, for creating a world where I can see myself and my friends represented.


Written by Katie Hughes, your friendly neighborhood software engineer. You should follow her on twitter or see what she's up to on github 👩‍💻

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