Kate Russell: the original gamer girl

Kate Russell has had a successful career in television that stretches back to the mid-nineties. Appearing weekly on BBC2 and BBC World News for flagship technology show Click, Kate is also often seen on the sofa on ITV’s Daybreak as an expert guest commentating on technology and Internet stories. As well as being one of the most highly respected technology reporters in the industry, Kate is a producer, director and writer. Daisy Jones spoke to the iconic presenter about how she showed a generation of young people that computers are cool.

Kate first got interested in technology as a teenager in the 80s. While her brother was studying computers at school, Kate had to take cookery and needlework – neither of which held any interest for her.

“When we got a BBC Micro at home, my brother started coding and played a game called Elite,” says Kate, “I became very interested in what he was doing and taught myself computing – partly as a way of annoying him because he didn’t want to share the BBC Micro!”

Kate Russell - Adam Leach

Technology was an early passion for Kate, but not her first.

“Everything I do starts with the writing. It’s the one thing I have always loved doing, since I was a very small child and I used to write notes to my family when I was upset because I found it easier to express myself by writing things down.”

Last year, Kate had the opportunity to combine the great loves of her formative years when she crowdfunded her first novel, Elite: Mostly Harmless. After purchasing a licence to write a piece of fiction based in the game world of Elite: Dangerous, the 21st century re-imagination of the game that first sparked her interest in technology, Kate’s Kickstarter campaign was backed by 811 people. The book has been lauded for its witty, clever take on British science fiction and has an overwhelming number of five star reviews. It’s also meant that Kate can indulge in one of her favourite hobbies – gaming.

“It’s given me a great excuse to play video games regularly for the first time in about 10 years, as I now stream gameplay on twitch.tv/kateclick every Sunday at 4pm. Blogging has always been a passion… it’s a place to put extended writings on the subjects I choose because no one is paying me or directing my editorial.”

Kate writes all the time: she’s a columnist for National Geographic Traveller magazine and also writes for BBC Focus. The 2015 UK Blog Awards named her website, KateRussell.co.uk, the best individual digital and technology blog, but she hasn’t become complacent and is humble, despite her success.

“My drive is very simple; I love to write, to share ideas and tell stories. I love words and playing with them gives me a lot of joy. I am motivated by other people’s responses to my words and I remain in awe of the fact that I am blessed to be able to earn a living crafting words. For every one person who is a professional writer there are thousands who write brilliantly but have not been lucky enough to make it pay the mortgage.”

Even now Kate is in many ways a celebrity, with a total of over 221,000 followers on her social media platforms, she still counts her blessings.

“I love working for Click. I’ve done it over 11 years now. I get to play with all the latest technology and surf the Internet looking for cool stuff. In truth, I would do it without pay!”

Kate has long been a key figure in making technology more accessible to everyone. Before Click, she presented problem page show Chips with Everything in the early noughties, helping to solve typical problems for computer users like sorting out their dial-up connection so they could play Quake over the Internet (do you feel old now?). Kate continues to educate others today, speaking at conferences in schools and universities.

Furthermore, for a whole generation of young women, Kate is the original ‘gamer girl’. As a bright, funky young woman, Kate showed everyone that video games aren’t just for the boys. Although the technology industry is well known for its lack of female representation, Kate says she’s never felt held back by being a woman in a male-dominated world.

“Quite the opposite in fact,” Kate says, “I’ve always stood out from the crowd because of my gender. When you work in the media ‘standing out’ is a very bankable commodity. That said, I appreciate I am a strong personality type that is able to push through and make myself heard above the macho egos and testosterone levels that I’ve always worked around and not all women are as comfortable dealing with that scenario.”

Recently placed as the 25th most influential woman in UK IT by Computer Weekly, the gender gap is something that Kate is often asked about.

“I wish we could stop talking about it; stop thinking about it; stop making it a ‘thing’. A person’s gender should have no place in assessing their ability or worth in any subject. It’s a sad fact that drawing too much attention to the gender gap in STEM studies actually puts off young girls from studying them, as they don’t want to stand out and become a potential target for bullies. What we need to do instead is work on creating open, inclusive, creative and interesting environments where no one feels excluded or discriminated against for any reason – gender, sexuality, race, religion, whatever – then sit back and let people choose to do stuff because they are good at it, rather than pushing people into certain funnels because it suits the quota.”

Kate often shares these beliefs, and recently tweeted about my article on women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.

Unperturbed by these issues, technology is an industry Kate continues to champion.

“Technology is just a part of life. It’s not a niche subject any more. It touches every single part of modern life and understanding it is a massive enabler that brings choice and freedom I think everyone should have the opportunity to benefit from.”

Kate is filled with excitement for the future. She is currently in the final stages of finishing her next novel, a fantasy called The Bookkeeper’s Guide to Practical Sorcery. With any luck, it will be out for this Christmas. Besides this, Kate hopes to continue her work to enthuse the next generation of technologists.

“My only plan is to carry on doing what I love and hope people continue wanting to read the words I write. Where possible, I want to be a role model and an inspiration for others (whatever their gender!) to fall in love with technology.”

Photography: Adam Leach

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