In celebration of Ada Lovelace Day I wanted to share (in no particular order) a few of the women that I admire, not only for their involvement in science and technology but also for their other admirable characteristics. This list is by no means exhaustive.
Although the women I’ve listed here are at the more publicly visible end of the scale, I would also like to pay tribute to the many less well-known women in the technology industry doing brilliant work every day. Many of whom I already look to as role models, and many of whom I don’t even know about yet, but I hope I will have the good fortune to meet at some point in my career.
Skeptical activist Rebecca Watson travels the world speaking, blogging and podcasting about the importance of science and critical thinking. She posts funny and relevant videos on YouTube addressing a wide range of topics, and is founder of skepchick.org, dedicating to debunking pseudoscience and promoting social justice. She has also spoken out against the sexism she has encountered in the skeptical community, and has become a voice for the many women and men that are victims of this in a community that really should know better. Despite many vitriolic attacks she remains always eloquent; and whether addressing quacks or bullies, uses wit, satire and solid reasoning to demonstrate her point.
Plus she shares my penchant for ridiculous hair colours.
Ruchi Sanghvi was the first female engineer at Facebook, joining when the company was just over a year old. She launched some of the most influential aspects of Facebook, including News Feed, which revolutionised how users interacted with the site. She was also responsible for Facebook Platform and Facebook Connect, helping to make the company even more ubiquitous on the web. Not only a talented engineer but also a shrewd business woman, Ruchi co-founded Cove which was later bought by Dropbox, where she is now Head of Operations.
She has spoken about the difficulties of being a woman in such a macho environment, and I admire her honesty about how she felt this affected her professional behaviour. However she has also praised the tech industry for being one of the more meritocratic, which is great news for women in the industry. She particularly inspires me because like me she got into computers relatively late, and it can sometimes be disheartening competing with people who’ve been coding since they were children. However, her success proves that it is never too late!
Games developer, producer, business woman, writer; Tracy King, who runs a games and animation company, has many facets. She is also a rationalist and science advocate, speaking and writing on a range of topics and injecting some British humour into skepchick.org. She is keen to use her talents to promote critical thinking and has worked on multiple pro-science projects, including Tim Minchin’s Storm movie (which won a BAFTA), and hugely successful viral campaign ‘the colour changing card trick‘ – a must watch – I was completely taken in!
It’s well known that the gaming community can be a challenging environment for women, and Tracy has spoken about the differences between how women are treated on and offline. Nevertheless she continues to go from strength to strength in her career and is an inspiration to women in the industry.
I always think it’s such a shame that children are so often pigeon-holed as ‘sciency’ or ‘arty’, when there is no reason why you can’t be both. In fact, the digital industry is crying out for these cross-disciplined people. Tracy combines her creative side with her love of technology beautifully and is a brilliant role model for others who might want to do the same.
Ok, so technically Victoria Coren is a bit of an anomaly on my list as she isn’t really in the science and technology industry, but she is one of the top poker players in the world and as a hugely successful woman in a very macho world, she is undoubtedly inspiring.
I first encountered Victoria when I accidentally tuned in to the first episode of Only Connect, which I immediately fell in love with as it prioritises lateral thinking over general knowledge. On top of this, Victoria’s marginally inappropriate jokes about drinking too much made to a silent studio (no audience, just somewhat bemused expressions on the faces of the incredibly intelligent contestants) make for an endearingly surreal half hour of quizzing.
As well as being a brilliant poker player and a witty quiz show host, Victoria is an accomplished and astute writer. Intelligent, a sense of humour, and an expert in probability – I reckon she thoroughly deserves a place on this list.
Geek songstress Helen Arney is a physics graduate with the voice of an angle. She is also a brilliant comedian; seamlessly combining physics, songs and jokes. She is one third of Festival of the Spoken Nerd, an anarchic show that humorously celebrates science and technology. In a society that is reluctant to believe that women can be funny, and where female physicists are still an unusual phenomenon, I love the fact that this multi-talented lady is happily both.
Two poker players on my list… I wonder what that says about me?! Liv Boeree is an astrophysics graduate, professional poker player, model and presenter. She is passionate about promoting science and was featured in a recent IoP publication to show how physics can be instrumental in enabling a range of exciting careers. I have always loved card games and puzzles and feel they embody much of what I enjoy about science and engineering – maths, logic and problem-solving – so it’s great to see how these skills can be applied to all sorts of novel career paths.
A bit of a legend now, Marissa Mayer is an obvious role model for women in technology. Not only is she CEO of Yahoo!, she was Google’s first female engineer and is widely regarded as being instrumental in many of Google’s most successful products. She is also a tech investor and has interests in a range of non-profit, arty organisations. Some people worry about the career progression of techy roles – that managerial routes have better prospects – Marissa demonstrates that being technical doesn’t have to mean giving up high-flying ambitions.
The next generation?
Aspirational role models are key to encouraging more women, particularly young girls, to see science and technology as desirable career options. We also need to be sure that young people are aware of the variety of careers available – by getting real people to talk about what they do. Organisations like STEMNet provide a great way to raise awareness in schools, and celebrating events like Ada Lovelace Day help educate the public about the many inspiring female role models working in science, technology and engineering.
Who inspires you?