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Today is Ada Lovelace day, a day that aims to raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering and maths by encouraging people around the world to talk about the women whose work they admire.

I’ve found myself increasingly engaged in discussions around encouraging females to pursue science and technology jobs, which makes me think about my school days. I grew up and was socialised in a relatively gender neutral environment as a child, I had no perception that being female should in anyway shape my decisions or life ambition. I was educated in an all girls school in Ireland, where  I loved science and technology and was good at both ‘academic’ and ‘applied’ subjects. I was comfortable with the ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ labels, (wearing them with pride alongside my Jamie Cullum and Pixies badges) and had a minor crush on Marc Newson. I received Nuffield Science and Technology bursaries and Gold, Silver and Bronze Crest awards for my efforts. Consequently I had no conscious awareness of what being a female might mean for my career until I reached upper sixth (16/17 years). It was at this time that careers advisers and teachers played a role in shaping my career choices. At the time I recall being discouraged from pursuing architecture (despite having the grades) because that was a ‘mans’ job (advice received 7 years ago), but encouraged to pursue the ‘professions’ (law or medicine) or to pursue a teaching career in the science subjects I had studied. Looking back I often wonder what I would have studied if I had known females working in computer science or engineering. I suspect, regardless of female role models, if I had known more about either of these subjects rather than the outdated blurb so often found in career books I may have shaped my career differently. I began by studying psychology (QUB) incase you are wondering, but returned to technology through a mash up of electrical and mechanical engineering, industrial design, computing and management, and of course  HighWire .

With this in mind I was recently invited to talk to some young females making career decisions. These girls were specifically interested in technology subjects. They weren’t thinking about the gender make up of the fields they were interested in, they weren’t worried about how this might impact their career, rightfully perceiving themselves as capable and equal. Rather they were discouraged by the (school) career advice they received suggesting that career advisors appeared to focus on their ‘softer’ subjects, and that much of the advice and direction they received was shaped in response. An examination of their collective pool of subjects made careers like engineering, computer science obvious choices but they hadn’t received much advice about either. Furthermore they had no knowledge of anyone female working in these fields, listing instead James Dyson, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg  and Phillipe Starck as their most recognisable role models. Encouraging that it wasn’t about perceiving that they were unable, or unequal; rather it was a simple lack of visibility of possible career options and consequent unawareness of who they could become. It all sounds a bit familiar.

In anycase, I’m writing this post (quite late) to document a few women in technology, design and related disciplines that I have met, worked with or find interesting;

Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh inventor of SugruEmer Coleman Director of Digital Projects,Greater London Authority and The London Datastore. Caper kids Katy Beale and Rachel Coldicutt; Virtual Revolution BBC, Guardian Tech Weekly, academic and journalist Aleks Krotoski; Collaborative consumption, author, innovator and speaker Rachel Botsman; designer, artist, educator and magician Jane Prophet ; researcher, writer, fellow,consultant and manager Georgina Voss; RIG London, Designswarm, LIREC  Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino; Adafruit industries Limor Fried; BBC R&D Maxine Glancey; Architect and designer Neri Oxman. Some of my design related favourites include Renny Ramakers Droog; Paola Antonelli  MoMA and Matali Crasset furniture and product designer and finally someone I would like to talk to in the course of my research Maxine Clarke Chief Executive Bear of Build a Bear Workshop.

Of course HighWire has wonderful women making their place in technology; Nina Ellis, radical knitting & serious gaming for social change; Rachel Lovie transmedia storytelling games as a tool for transformational learning; Rachel Keller wellbeing and knowledge transfer through community quilting; Becci Pearce technology and organisations; Marcia Tavares Smith Fashion 2.0; co design in fashion; Helen Pritchard arduino wizz, artist and researcher playing with data; Ester Waite generative possibilities of learning, organising and achieving innovative ways of performing our world into being; Brandi Richards cyber sustainability and Jonnat Middleton artist, anthropologist and panda bear enthusiast.

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3 thoughts on “Finding Ada; an ode to women.

  1. Thanks Natasha, for an insightful and moving post. Sadly it seems that school attitudes still have some catching up to do. As a lecturer in FE I came across many very capable young women whose confidence had been undermined by a combination of school careers advisers and the lack of media presence of women in technology and science, but thankfully with a little nurturing and encouragement just in the nick of time, many are now studying and excelling in those subjects. It’s good to see of late, more women presenting technology and science on TV – about time I know, but I do think we’ve reached a turning point.

  2. Hello Natasha,
    Your blog is a great find as I agree with many points you raise. I regret not having the opportunity at school to combine my ‘arts’ side and my ‘technological’ side as in my school in the early 1960’s all girls were discouraged from doing physics and chemistry.Our only choice in the sciences was biology! Quite late in my career as a designer maker I entered ‘technology’ through using the CAD/lasercutting for manufacture and realise I have a huge gap in my knowledge base. I now run a software development company and collaborate with technologists/computer scientists. This combination has put a different spin into our product to differentiate it from other engineering based CAD packages and it is more attuned to the way designer makers and artists prefer to work digitally. But my lack of basic knowledge in physics means that hacklabs, Arduino, etc are all very intimidating. Pity.

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