Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Ada Lovelace and Women in Technology

"I will publish a blog post on Tuesday 24th March about a woman in technology whom I admire but only if 1,000 other people will do the same." — Suw Charman-Anderson

I just found out about this pledge and I took it only because as a woman in computing I know that it is not easy not being one-of-the guys. The dilemma is, I've always enjoyed ending up being one of the guys; as frankly I enjoy going all tech-savvy with guys just as much as I enjoy shopping with girl friends :).

I have always been surrounded by a majority of guys no matter what I do. I have three brothers and no sisters. In high school in grade 12 students choose a concentration and are split up into classes based upon the choice of concentration. I chose the Mathematics and Physics option though I would be the only girl in a class containing 9 guys. It was actually the opposite case in as college there were a lot of girls doing their BS in Computer Science with me and a few female CMPS lecturers as well; however I ended up doing my senior group project with three guys. At my first job there were three of us girl programmers versus six guy programmers, three IT support guys, and two design and database administration guys. At the same time I was attending MCSD (Microsoft Certified Solution Developer) .Net classes and was one of only two girls in a class of fifteen men. The track was made of nine courses and by the third course I was the only girl in a class of ten men. In grad school, I am one of two girls in the MSc of AI course and I didn't have any female lecturers; the academic and research positions are dominated by males. At my other job I was assigned to work in an area where no other girl was working on in our department in Lebanon and only one other girl was working on across all other countries in all the branches of the company. We once attended a training boot camp for the department and the two of us were surrounded by around 28 men. Talk about being outnumbered lol

I never really had a woman role model in computing or technology because I always thought that women lack nothing to be in those domains. Also, I used to get pissed off every time someone (male but much more if female) recites the gender stereotypes that women are not good or not smart enough to be in those domains! One of the stories I can never forget happened when I was working on a project for a Computer Architecture course. We were supposed to wire some gates on a board to produce an output for some function; so I was sitting on the coach with wires, diodes, a board, a big battery, and wire-bending tool. A close girl friend of mine saw me and expressed "What is this that you are doing! That is so not something a girl would do!!" I was furious because that stereotype came from a girl and a friend but I very calmly smiled and answered "Well I like it, whether girly or not, and I don't think that as a girl I shouldn't be doing that". Other stereotype remarks came from men as well; one of whom was supposed to fix the Internet connection at home and he needed me to browse to the Control Panel under Windows so he asked me if I knew how to use a computer; I was shocked - maybe because at the time I was fresh Computer Science graduate who thought that most things I knew were about computers - so I sarcastically replied "I think so", so he asked me if I will be fine if he guides me verbally to what commands need to be input; so I said that we can try. After finishing the 'task' I informed him that I was a Computer Science graduate and he was a bit embarrassed lol

Back to Ada Lovelace; the first time I heard of her was in class; only a few months ago frankly. Personally I was impressed and pleased because of all the early inventors and Computer Scientists we were being told about she was the only female. It didn't take long before I had the chance to cheer up one of my females friends using Ada Lovelace's achievements. We were having dinner and she was saying that her course-mates on the Computational Fluid Dynamics MSc always blame the fact that she is a woman whenever she doesn't understand any of her lessons quickly. I directly said, "well, your course-mates haven't heard about Ada Lovelace for sure!". I also told her about Prof Dame Wendy Hall and how she was the Head of ECS and then she became president of ACM and was also president of BCS before that. Over time, I have apparently developed an interest in finding out - and bragging - about female Computer Scientist achievers; something which I previously took for granted. I still believe that being a female in Computing is nothing special and shouldn't be judged and stereotyped; but now I enjoy when it is celebrated :) What can I say, women love attention; don't we? ;)

Final note, I took the picture above on Saturday in the Science Museum in London. My friend and I were in the Computing section and as I came next to the machines invented by Charles Babbage I directly told my friend about Ada Lovelace. A few steps later the above invention was displayed with Ada Lovelace's picture and I just had to take the picture after exclaiming "Oh Look! There she is!" :)

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