Ada Lovelace Day

Just saw that today is Ada Lovelace Day, "an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology."

My first thought on hearing about that was, rather than focusing on the "leading women in tech," to post something about some really unsung heroines of the computer industry: specifically the fact that, in addition to all the women working as engineers (who also, of course, deserve attention), there are a bunch of women in roles that are seen as "softer" or more "femme." For example, the majority of the tech writers I've known, the majority of the tech-writer managers I've known (and the best of them), and quite a lot of the Quality Assurance people I've known have been women.

(After all, as I noted a few years back, Lovelace was arguably a tech writer and/or QA person.)

But rather than blog about a couple of my favorite managers, who are women but who might not appreciate having their names posted online, it occurred to me that I could mention someone with a higher public profile who got me thinking about the ideas of some tech careers being considered more femme: Dr. Cornelia Brunner, deputy director of the Center for Children & Technology. In particular, I want to link again to the video of her brilliant talk On Girls, Boys, and IT Careers, which I posted about back in 2006. If you haven't watched this, and if you have any interest in the intersection of gender and the computer industry, I urge you to go watch it.

I don't know much about Dr. Brunner personally, beyond what it says on her bio page--that she's been working in various areas of educational technology for thirty years. But she's definitely one of my tech heroes. That talk she gave was not only insightful, interesting, and well-presented; it also gave me a new paradigm for looking at the world. That's not something that happens every day.

While I'm here, I'd like to mention a couple of other women who I've seen give inspiring talks on technical topics:

Brenda Laurel, best known as one of the founders of Purple Moon, a software company in the late '90s that made computer games aimed at girls. At SIGGRAPH 1994, in Orlando, she gave what I later described as "by far the most interesting, thought-provoking, inspiring, and well-presented [talk] that I attended there," related to interactive storytelling and narrative and computer-human interaction. Some years later, I saw a videotape of a talk that she gave at a Northwest Council for Computer Education conference (possibly the keynote?), about which I later wrote "I spent most of the talk nodding vigorously and occasionally cheering." I don't think either of those talks are online, but she does provide online copies of some of her other talks and essays.

danah boyd is a researcher on "social media, youth practices, tensions between public and private, social network sites, and other intersections between technology and society." She gave a great talk at my workplace a couple years ago, about blogging (iIrc), and pretty much everything I've seen of her online writing has been thought-provoking and compelling.

. . . Side note: I had to stop and ask myself if I was betraying the Lovelace Day cause by blogging about women in tech who aren't in hard-edged "butch" engineering jobs. My eventual answer is that I don't think so. I think it's important for everyone to remember that (a) not all technology jobs require an engineering mindset; and (b) the "femme" jobs are incredibly valuable and important, and shouldn't be devalued. We should also value the women in engineering, absolutely. But I suspect a lot of the Lovelace Day blog entries will focus on such women, and if we focus entirely on them, that fails to remind young people (especially girls) that they don't have to be programmers (if they don't want to be, though they can be if they do want to be) to have fulfilling careers in the tech industry.

If I'm wrong, and most of the Lovelace Day bloggers are focusing on femme jobs in tech, then maybe I'll try and post later about some of the excellent female engineers I've known.

Join the Conversation