24 Mar 2010, Comments (3)

Ada Lovelace day: Women techies in the spotlight

Author: Helen

So what’s Ada Lovelace Day?

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines. Whatever she does, whether she is a sysadmin or a tech entrepreneur, a programmer or a designer, developing software or hardware, a tech journalist or a tech consultant, we want to celebrate her achievements.

If you’re unfamiliar with Ada Lovelace, please check this out. OK, maybe I’ve chosen that because I love it so much, rather than its hundred percent historical accuracy. Wikipedia has an interesting page on her (and more about that some other time).

I work in the IT department of a nonprofit, as they call them in the US, in a sometimes uncomfortable limbo between the developers, who build the system, and the people who use it.

Most of what I know I learnt from my workmate. She had done a degree, or diploma, or something in IT after working in another place which went through a systems upgrade, and said she got the urge to, as she put it, “see what was behind it all”. And she certainly did. I think she’s probably forgotten more than I know by now. She taught me so much, but she believed in nutting things out for yourself, too, and would take me only so far down a certain path and would then leave me to work the rest out. When I see a discrepancy in some query result or process, and I’m tempted to write it off as some kind of meaningless one-off fail, I hear her saying “there’s always a reason”.

She could be hard work. This woman was full of ‘tude. And she had to be, working in a male-dominated department where she often had to go toe to toe with volatile and entitled developers. She used to bottle it up quite a bit, and sometimes it made her hard to live with. That’s the sort of thing which, in that setting, will attract the inevitable judgement of oh, women, so emotional. But holy Mary McKillop on my breakfast crumpet, you should see the men sometimes. The hissy fits they chuck. Women emotional and feeling, men unemotional and rational – a load of dingoes’ kidneys m’lud, I rest my case.

As a techie, she was ahead of everyone in the building who wasn’t actually conversant with a programming language, and in some respects she was even ahead of those people. What that woman couldn’t do with about twenty-five intricately linked database tables and a fearsomely complex reporting tool, isn’t worth knowing about. She built our website after a two-day training session in web design and HTML (and teaching herself about javascript). Thousands of people use her javascript pages to this day to do stuff online and make payments. She was awesome. And I, a thirtysomething jack-of-all-trades and refugee from the music industry, was always a little in awe of her.

And when I was working with her, although I never dared to ask, she was in her sixties, if she was a day.

Ah, the smashing of age and gender stereotypes: what a lovely sound.

Does anyone else have stories to tell for Ada Lovelace day about their favourite female techs?

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