Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Ada Lovelace Day

I've been travelling and waiting pretty much all day, but it's still 24 March, so I have an hour or so to make a post for Ada Lovelace Day: a day to celebrate women excelling in technology. I didn't sign the pledge, partly as I knew I'd be out of touch, but I wanted to do a post anyway, if possible.

I haven't asked my heroines for permission to mention them, so I'll just use first names (possibly fictional). I hope they know who they are, if they read this.

Marita taught me APL (she was writing an APL interpreter), or at least enough of it to know I didn't want to know it. I've had an aversion to highly compressed code ever since! Marita also taught me a huge amount about project and people management. Mostly though, she taught me there were excellent ways to balance and integrate social and work life; ways I wished later I could emulate!

Christine was a friend; I never worked with her closely. But in between being a sociable, funny party animal mother, she took part in a management buyout, ran her company with a colleague for a decade or more, and sold her HR software across the world (still running when I moved to a new University a hemisphere away at the turn of the millenium). All apparently effortlessly!

Lynne turned me down for a job once but not twice (but then again). She showed you didn't have to be a techie specialist to understand the implications of technology for universities and libraries, and what could be achieved with the right application of forcefulness to the levers of power. She might not always agree with you, or you with her, but you always got a fair listen. And hey did things get done!

I never worked with Carole either, nor do I know her well. But you absolutely have to admire someone who can run a large, highly successful Computer Science group, making practical and highly successful contributions to data curation, and give the most successful keynote at a conference, linking curation to the VivaLaDiva shoe shopping site!

I know several Nancys of influence and technical bent in libraries. The Nancy I want to celebrate here is a negotiator, a maker of mind meetings, one of those people who gets things to happen, things involving many other people, smoothly, productively. In, round and about technology, but not fixated on it; not technology for a purpose, but a purpose supported by technology. And a good, warm-hearted friend.

Some ten years after I started in computing, I remember being quite shocked at reading about the gender gap in computing. It had never struck me before, and indeed I don't think the male/female ratio then was any different from any walk of professional life (in fact probably more balanced). This was before the PC, games and the geek factor. Even since then, I don't know what the stats say, but I've worked with so many excellent women in technology, that the saddest thing about my list is the many great candidates I have to leave out if it's to be published today.

Secondary school exam results in Britain over the last few years (girls far outstripping boys, specially in maths) suggest we should have many more Ada Lovelace candidates in the future. I certainly hope so!


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