Ada Lovelace Day - To All the Unknown Tech Women

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Ada Lovelace Day is all about putting the focus on women in technology. It's about raising awareness of, supporting, and encouraging women in technology. It's about acknowledging the work that women have done to contribute to technology. And it's about recognising that women everywhere have shaped and will continue to shape the face of technology, whatever technology that may encompass.

According to the organiser of Ada Lovelace Day, Suw Charman-Anderson, today bloggers around the world are "picking a tech heroine" and blogging about her. I'm going to buck the system here, and instead of blogging about one influential woman in technology, I want to acknowledge all of them. I want to acknowledge the women who have been slaving away in server rooms for decades, the women who have been writing code for a faceless corporation for years, and the women who started in a tech company last year and have just completed their first software release. I want to acknowledge the women who have just graduated with an engineering degree, the teenagers who have just enrolled in one, and the little girls who want to work with computers when they grow up.

For a woman, moving in to technology is a life-long journey, fraught with obstacles and challenges, and resplendent with success and satisfaction. This story is every woman's, every teen's, every girl's. Hopefully, you see a little of yourself in it.


Anne had always been pretty bright. Not genius material, but smart enough that she didn't need to try too hard to get good grades. She would finish her homework quickly, devour the required reading, and then curl up with a crossword puzzle, a novel - the subject didn't matter too much, or a handheld computer game. As a young child, she had pulled her toys apart to see their insides, and then tried to put them together again. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn't. Very occasionally, they did something new and interesting that they hadn't done before. When her parents bought a new computer, she set out to teach herself how to use it, and over the course of one glorious Christmas break she not only worked out the inner workings of the operating system and most of the programs, but also started writing simple programs for it. Her parents, endlessly requested to try the latest version of her programs out, suggested she get some fresh air. Then when school went back, the computer was pushed to the back of her mind again.

She was in the top maths class until senior year, when she dropped down a level. Girls didn't join the top maths class, at least not unless they were seriously uncool. Or wanted to be. When she was choosing her subjects for university, she avoided any that had a maths component. She wasn't any good at maths. At uni, she discovered the computer lab, and made friends there in between lectures. Before long, she had transferred into an engineering degree, terrified that someday soon she would get a phone-call asking her to stop dreaming and get back into a degree that would suit her better. She learned how to get along with the guys, how to blend in, how to be inconspicuous.

At graduation, she was the only female on the dais. She didn't notice. But the men did.

Anne got a data-entry position at a big tech company, and was grateful for the start. After a year, seeing the men around her being promoted, she left to pursue the next step. And she got there, a new job, a new office, a new crowd of engineers. Male engineers. At first the work was challenging, and the men around her willing to help her out. She improved quickly and, pleased with her new knowledge, was eager to help out the new hires on her team, and gave advice freely. But then she noticed a subtle change in the men around her. For some reason they were becoming resentful, saying she had benefited from extra help because she was a woman, that she was granted extra liberties, that she thought she was better than them. Her self-confidence started to ebb, and she started to question her own abilities. Eventually, spurred on by the cutting comments in the lunch room, she decided to move on.

At her next position, for the first time, she wasn't the only woman on the team. They kept a wary distance from each other for a while, until one day Beth asked her out for lunch. They chatted about life in the engineering lab, about the men they worked with and their personalities, and Fran asked Anne about her previous workplaces. Over the course of the next few months, Anne's confidence was restored, her skills had improved, and she was no longer afraid to stand up for herself. When Beth left the company, Anne kept in contact with her, and when a new young woman started in the company, Anne did for her what Beth had done. Took her for lunch, and mentored her.


For all the Annes, and the Beths, you can do it, you're not alone. Some days it's hard, but those days are nothing compared to the days when it's absolutely wonderful. Remember the hard days, and help those starting out to get through them too.

For all those who want to be Annes, or Beths, do it. No job is more rewarding than the job that you love, even if you have to fight for it. Especially when you have to fight for it.

Please, call out to the women that you work with in the comments. The women who are doing the hard work: unsung, unacknowledged, but appreciated all the same ...


Loquacity said...

For my part, I want to sing out to Susan, who I work with. I also want to mention my friends in LinuxChix and all those women I've been privileged to meet through Girl Geek Dinners. You all rock my world!


Ruth Ellison said...

Love the post.
A big sing out to my all my lovely female friends who work in technology - too many to name!

Granny said...

A great read, L, and very thought provoking!

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