There were many options that struck me when I heard of Ada Lovelace Day (HT: Raghu). At first, I wanted to take the safe options and just write about Blissenobiarella or Dors Venabili. To celebrate fictional characters, who are not really women scientists or engineers either, didn’t seem to ring true with the spirit of the day, though. So here we go.
Off the top of my head, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) comes to mind. Every year, our lab takes part in the annual SWE showcase at Rutgers.. and I’ve watched it grow from a small perfunctory meeting, to an evening where Rutgers research shows off to a significant number of people that show up. My own lab was first represented by 4 guys hanging around a desk with a poster.. we have as many women there now to represent our lab’s work. Whether by accident or design, the SWE is having an effect on publicizing women researchers (And no, I wasn’t just going because I got to.. erm.. look around).
Which brings me to Grace Hopper, who, I’m ashamed to say, I heard of only because of the Grace Hopper celebration of Women in Computing. Rear Admiral Hopper pretty much invented IT as we know it today, by virtually inventing programming, compiling and debugging (you’ve heard the story of the moth in Mark I?) It would behoove us to remember her every now and then.
Talking of the Grace Hopper celebration brings me to the fact that it seemed a little weird that such a thing had to exist; I confess I am naive enough to believe that there are a lot of women in computing. There aren’t, I believe the meeting hosts only 2000-4000(?) women every year, which is a tiny tiny number. That I know women who attend this meeting is in itself against the odds of probability — consider the number of women in science and engineering, the number of women who will attend it, and on top of that the number of women who I know. Which brings me to Gayatree, Pallavi, Shannon, and Rachel — all women in computing-related fields at Rutgers, all deserving of praise for what they have achieved. Especially so when I consider their varied backgrounds, only one of them is an actual computer scientist. That they are on the cutting edge of biomedical computing/pattern recognition research says a lot of what they can do.
The Grace Hopper page is partially funded by the Anita Borg institute, which reminded me of Kriti, a finalist in the eponymous scholarship back in 2008. Oh no, not another woman computer engineer, you might exclaim. Suffice to say that Kriti is by far one of the smartest individuals I have ever met. I still remember her being one of the few people who actually knew what the hell she was studying in college (I certainly had no clue). She’s into her PhD now which appears to be drifting more into computational biology than anything else, having first skipped through general IT and data mining so far.
One other woman comes to mind, my computer science teacher from school: Jayanthi miss. Who was more frank about how good or bad we were than any other teacher I knew. She taught me an invaluable lesson while we discussed a question which I had answered with an unnecessarily complicated solution: “Satish, it may make sense to me now when you’ve explained it… but don’t assume you’ll always get to do that. This could just have been a ___ solution, why complicate matters?” Yes, Occam’s razor indeed. When I was in the 8th grade. Even then, it took me a while to realize that lesson.
And finally, the missus. Why? Because it has been a while since I gave a shout out to her. Because she is a woman who has worked in multiple fields of science, engineering, and technology — all successfully. Because she is geeky enough to have GMail stickers on her laptop. Because she is my personal tech heroine.
And that’s all there is to say about that.