Ada Lovelace day 2018 we speak with female tech leaders to find out more on the importance of role models in getting young girls and women into STEM careers and ask them who or what inspired them.
Ada had a tragically short life but in her short 36 years she was a writer and mathematician of note and a peer of Charles Babbage who dubbed her “the enchantress of numbers”. It’s clear from her notes she had a deep understanding of his early work in computing and would become a pioneer in her own right writing functional code for his analytical engine making her the first computer programmer.
It’s only appropriate that we remember her life and work and use her memory to encourage more women into tech. In part one of this feature we hear from;
- Jo Hodgson, Director, Presales, Red Hat
- Caterina Falchi, VP of File Technologies at Cloudian
- Tara O’Sullivan, CMO at Skillsoft
Women role models in STEM are critical to being able to attract and retain the best talent in our industry. When girls and young women see women in their lives and in the media involved in STEM it opens up the possibilities for their own future. If you never come across someone in a certain field, you may never even know the opportunity exists.
This is why so many women in STEM roles feel a personal responsibility to be visible and mentor others.
I grew up in a family of strong women which left a lasting impression on me, even if I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time!
One my lecturers when studying for my Computing Science degree at Glasgow Uni, now Prof Calder, inspired me to have confidence in myself. An impromptu corridor conversation during my finals gave me a belief in my abilities and her words have stayed with me throughout my career.
I have taken a lot of inspiration from many of the women I’ve worked with and for. Managers who have given me the support to grow and develop. Graduates and apprentices who have brought an energy and an approach that has challenged me to keep adapting. And the many influential technical women it’s been a privilege to work alongside over the years.
Some of the women who broke new ground early on in IT continue to inspire me through their legacy. Women including Margaret Hamilton, the software engineer who developed the Apollo Space programme software, Grace Hopper the programmer whose work led to the development of COBOL and Karen Spärck Jones whose work underpins search engine technology. Today they lend their names to activities that continue to inspire women to join the world of STEM. And Ada Lovelace herself. My daughter’s middle name is Ada. As well as being a beautiful name we chose it to reflect our respect for this pioneer of our profession.
Jo Hodgson, Director, Presales, Red Hat
Ada Lovelace, Challenge perceptions
Ada Lovelace serves as the perfect role model and a reminder that women have a voice and a place in the IT and tech industry. When I was a child I simply could not relate to anything like Cinderella or Snow White, and so no dream or passion was born from these types of concepts for me: my dream was to be a scientist, because I knew that I could realise this dream with a great commitment to study and with passion.
I think the introduction of technology to girls needs to start early and needs to be light – the message should never be that technology is too hard for girls. I think many girls worry that this area is too difficult, and we need to change this perception.
We need to show girls that anyone can be a scientist, a technologist or a mathematician. And for this reason, the stories of successful women like Ada Lovelace must be presented as stories of ordinary women who believed in themselves and overcome their challenges.
Caterina Falchi, VP of File Technologies at Cloudian
See also: A-levels, Gender and STEM 2018
Education and encouragement
When I was a child, we had computers around the house because my Dad was working with Digital in Ireland. I also remember all the Edward de Bono lateral thinking books we had. You will absorb what you are exposed to. As well as that, my Mum was an ardent feminist; she told her daughters they could do and be anything (and her son!). It was only when I started school that I realised people thought and told girls they couldn’t do things. Education and encouragement, fundamentally, is key to overhauling outdated thinking.
Encouraging women to get into STEM ultimately starts with education – from school to the boardroom. In school, coding should be mandatory for everyone; complex problem solving and critical thinking should be part of everyday life. In the workplace, training programmes can help people understand conscious and unconscious bias; both helping people to change the way they think and call out unfair behaviour.
Getting female talent into the industry is only half the story, however. Making sure they rise up the ranks is also key – with the support of women in leadership training programmes.
Tara O’Sullivan, CMO at Skillsoft
You can read celebrating Ada Lovelace 2018 – part two here