Posts Tagged ‘Ada Lovelace Day’
For Ada Lovelace Day this year, I want to share my appreciation for Dr. Marian C. Diamond.
In years past, I’ve saluted women in the field of computing, which is my field as well. Dr. Diamond, however, is a biologist. Her research includes “neuroanatomy, environment, immune functions, and hormones. In particular, she is interested in studying the effects of the external environment, aging, and immune responses on the cerebral neocortex.” She has, in her words, had a love affair with the brain for about 70 years.
I know very little about biology. The content and methods of her research are, frankly, beyond me, though some of her results have garnered popular attention. She has inspired me by demonstrating that rare combination of gifts: a deep understanding of a technical subject, and the ability to explain it to other people in an accessible way.
In her interviews, articles and lectures, many of which are available online, Dr. Diamond displays these gifts in abundance. Her skill and enthusiasm for both learning and teaching is unmistakable. After applying her gifts in the classroom for many years, digital distribution has now enabled many more people to see and hear her, through millions of YouTube views.
In 1960, she became the first female graduate student in UC Berkeley’s anatomy department, and was apparently given the job of sewing a cover for a magnifying machine. I can only imagine the persistence required to continue from there to become a recognized leader in her field. She has gone on to help many other students along their way, and was named an “unsung, everyday hero” for the support she provided to students outside of the classroom or lab.
As if that weren’t enough, she has also traveled to Cambodia to apply her expertise in helping children injured by land mines. She still teaches today, just across the bay from where I write this, and will turn 85 next month.
Today is Ada Lovelace Day, “an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science”. By participating in this event, and blogging about women in these fields, my hopes are:
- to credit individual women for their achievements, which are often undervalued (both by others and by the women themselves)
- to raise awareness of the presence of women in technical fields, who are often presumed to be few or nonexistent, or only included by association with a man
- to remind men in technical communities that women are unquestionably capable of high achievement, and deserving of professional respect in their fields of excellence
For Ada Lovelace Day 2010, I would like to honor two women in the free software community who have made a strong impression on me in the past year: Akkana Peck and Miriam Ruiz.
I became aware of Akkana’s work through Planet Ubuntu Women, which is something of a year-round Ada Lovelace Day as it aggregates the blogs of many of the women of the Ubuntu community. As a senior engineer at Netscape, Akkana was instrumental in the development of the Linux port of Mozilla. Having developed a number of extensions to the GIMP, she went on to write the book on using it as well.
I met Miriam through the Debian Women project. Her profile there seems to be out of date, as it says she is not an official Debian developer yet, but she was officially recognized over two years ago as a trusted member of the team, through Debian’s notoriously thorough New Maintainer process. Miriam has been particularly interested in game development, and as the founder of the Debian Games Team has been responsible for uncountable hours of pleasant distraction for Debian users and developers. Thanks to her leadership, the Debian Games team has been exemplary in terms of cross-participation between Debian and Ubuntu.
The 24th of March was Ada Lovelace day. I’m not sure why it was so designated, as Wikipedia claims Ada Lovelace was born on 10 December and died on 27 November. Regardless, many people celebrated it by writing about women in technology. This seems like a good idea on any day of the year, which is why I don’t feel left out in joining the crowd a day late.
The woman who most influenced my own journey in technology was my mother, Margie D’Valle. When I was born, she was working in a technical role for the US government. I believe she was called a “Computer Operator” at the time, which sounds a bit funny now that computing devices are so pervasive. She worked as a programmer, and later as a manager of programming teams. In addition to raising me and my sister as a single parent, she encouraged and enabled us from a young age to become “computer literate”, another term which soon sounded archaic.
Her programming work itself was largely invisible to me, being a proprietary system which was only used within a single organization, and I didn’t learn much about mainframe technology until much later. She sometimes told stories of programming, or debugging, or working late to get a release out, which have since been shared by many people, including myself. At the time, they had a certain element of fantasy, as if they existed in another world.
I think it’s wonderful that so many women can now be recognized for contributing to open source, where they can inspire millions of people around the world, for generations to come. I expect, however, that their influence has been greatest on the people they know best, and so it was for Margie. She helped me see how computer technology would change the world, and helped me to be a part of it.
I’m not sure what experiences she may have had with discrimination against women in her workplace, though the events of Ada Lovelace Day have made me curious to ask her. She has since retired from her job, but I’m sure that her code is still running, tirelessly performing the invisible but necessary work of keeping important government services alive. Such systems evolve slowly, and it may survive for many years to come.