You Make Me Feel Like A Technical Woman

This is my post for Ada Lovelace Day, celebrating Women in Technology, after my pledge to celebrate the inspiration and assistance that women have provided to me throughout my academic and professional careers.

When I was studying for my A-Level in Computer Science at Biddenham Upper School (formerly Pilgrim, don’t get me started, grumble grumble), the teacher was Ms Capon. It shames me to say I don’t know her full name, despite a quick search, or the proper honorific – every female teacher was “Ms” through sheer laziness I think. Ms Capon steered me through my coursework of creating a theatre ticket booking system, complete with seat booking interface, for the BBC Master System. I remember trying to convince her of the importance of having a good acronym title for the project in the style of V.I.N.CENT from The Black Hole. In this she was very tolerant, as she was when I would use my walkman to help concentrate in the programming lab. She was the first female computer geek I ever met.

The name Ada Lovelace is associated with this campaign, and it has particular significance for me in one small way. When studying at Manchester Polytechnic, one of the courses I took was Computer Programming Principles (or some such), and one of the languages we worked with (along with Modula-2, COBOL (!) and Smalltalk) was Ada. Designed for use with real-time applications such as missile guidance systems and safety-critical industrial processes, it was of course named after Ada Lovelace herself. It was a very interesting course, but after I left Manchester to study in High Wycombe, I never used Ada again, although the principles involved were of use in my early career as a PLC programmer.

In High Wycombe I continued working on my degree, and for my dissertation I did an investigation into image processing tools and principles, including writing code which would perform matrix convolution filters on a scanned image. My tutor for this exercise was … once again I am ashamed to say I have forgotten her name. Another classic computer geek. She was again very supportive, allowing me to plagiarize her QBASIC code for reading the scanner output to a raw TIFF file, which could then be filtered by my code (I used a scanned image of a friend’s roommate’s dog swimming in the dyke at the Rye). I will endeavour to find out the name – this is embarrassing. An indictment of the lack of recognition of women in technology? No, just of my Swiss-cheese brain.

A fellow student at High Wycombe also deserves a mention. Catherine was my roommate and my coursemate, and she helped me a great deal, with coursework, and with getting up on time. She got married several years ago, and we met a couple of times when I lived in London. I hope you’re well, Catherine, if you’re out there – I couldn’t have done it without you!

Bringing things up to date, I really should mention my good friend Mira, whom I miss a great deal. We’ve been friends for a long time, and she remains one of the most driven and articulate people I know, male or female. Her work with Virtual Learning Environments is fascinating, and she’s a big advocate for Open Source software such as Moodle. She’s the first person I know to have bought an e-book reader (not a Kindle!), we shared our experiences with Palm gadgets for a long time, and her intellectual and political curiosity (and sheer frequency of blog posting) put mine to shame. The breadth of her knowledge and expertise is amazing, and she always wants to know more. I guess the reason she qualifies for this post is that she wants to make the world a better place, in many different ways, but an overarching theme is that intelligence combined with technology can be a vital tool to achieving this. That’s why I look up to her.