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In the footsteps of Ada: Seven women who inspired me

October 15, 2013

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, an annual celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths named after the first computer programmer. In honour of the occasion, here are seven women who inspired me to work in digital:

1) My grandmother

My grandmother Marguerite was born in 1923, just a few short years after her father returned from the trenches of WW1. She studied engineering at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, and not long after graduating met and married a young Scottish man. Sadly the marriage was short-lived. There were few engineering jobs for women in those days, still less a single mum with a young child, but her technical knowledge and perfect written English meant she found work as a technical translator.

Proving you really are never too old to learn, she took a computer course at 89, and took to it like a duck to water. She got a tablet for her 90th birthday back in January, which she uses every day. She’s not tweeting yet, but I wouldn’t write it off.

2) My mum

My mum Cathie is not a techie by trade, but a travel agent – one of the first industries to embrace computing from the back office right to the front line. She’s been using computers for work since the early 70s, and was quick to realise they’d go on to disrupt nearly every industry. She understood this would be a skill everyone will need, and so she bought us our first family computer, the Amstrad CPC464. I did my first programming on this; I never got much better at it.

She was completely right about digital disrupting the travel  trade; while the big high street chains are in decline, she now runs her own travel business from home, working with online tools and systems.

3) My year 9 IT teacher

She realised I had an interest in, and aptitude for, working with computers, and let me tinker away in the computer room whenever I liked. It was thanks to her that I got my first modem and got on the Internet for the first time, in 1993. I haven’t been offline since. She unknowingly changed my life and career. It’s a little embarrassing, then, that I’ve forgotten her name*.

* if any Maria Fidelis alumna are reading this and can remember her name, it would be great if you’d jog my memory

4) Mary McKenna

Mary was one of the first people off Twitter that I met in real life. She founded Learning Pool, an e-learning business based on open source. Female entrepreneurs are a rare breed in tech, but Mary’s ambition and no-nonsense attitude set her apart, and in a few short years she’s turned it into a successful global business.

Mary also proves that you don’t need an asymmetric haircut and skinny jeans to be a successful dotcom entrepreneur. She champions and supports other women in tech, with excellent blog posts like this one on negotiating your salary.

5) Sue Black

Dr Sue Black is an award-winning computer scientist, researcher, consultant and advocate of women in computing. She’s best known for her (successful) campaign to save Bletchley Park. In 2011 she set up the <goto> foundation, to to change public perception of, and increase participation in, computer science.

Sue had an atypical route into computer science, moving into it by studying as a mature student with two small children. Her story, which she’s written at length on her blog, is truly inspirational. Through tech education Sue was able to bring her family out of poverty, earn a decent living and create a better future for them all. She knows first hand what a difference education and confidence with technology can make and now wants to give that opportunity to other mums – so she founded SavvyTechMums, which delivers intensive,  hands-on workshops to help mums become tech savvy.

6 & 7) Hadley Beeman and Ann Kempster

Hadley and Ann are two of my firmest friends in the field. We got to know each other via the gov tech circuit, at events like Teacamp.

Frustrated by the lack of women we saw speaking at tech events, we talked about the reasons why this might be the case. Eventually we realised that we’d better stop talking and do something about it, and together we hit upon the idea of 300 Seconds, our series of lightning talks which aim to raise the profile of women in digital.

Hadley and Ann are both tremendously hard-working, clever, capable and endlessly curious. None of us would have got 300 Seconds off the ground alone, but they helped me realise that by working with brilliant people, and being creative and persistent, we can change the world.

This list could have been extended to 100 or more without much difficulty. On Ada Lovelace Day, people all over the world are celebrating those women in science and technology who have inspired them.

Who are the women who have inspired you?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 15, 2013 11:07 pm

    I’m touched, Sharon. I don’t know if I’ve told you how much you inspire me: your “well let’s just do something about that then” response to any injustices and frustrations we’ve encountered over the years — it’s a model that keeps me going.

    I’ve been bothered by the “pre-technical” label we jokingly tossed around this weekend; I felt it implies that you haven’t yet grown into your strength — and yet, your ability to know what tools are available, shape them to your need and jump into fixing the problem ARE your strengths. And they’re mature and powerful. Your design and coding skills (to build a tiny part of those solutions) are just icing on the cake. But I love that your curiosity drives you to explore it further.

    Also: 300 Seconds has been amazing. I’m so proud of all it has achieved, the work and vision and time you and Ann have contributed, and of all the women who are taking part. It’s incredible to help even in a small way.

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