The Magnificent Ada Lovelace
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Ada Lovelace had it worse, but as one of the few women undertaking a Computing Science degree in the 90’s, I’m used to being a minority. I’ve never understood why it is such a male dominated industry because I love it. I don’t put this down to sexism. Throughout my studies and beyond in the workplace as a software engineer and, later, project manager I have been treated with respect at all times by men in my field.
I have my own theories about why girls don’t take to computer science as wholeheartedly as their male counterparts and they are, in my opinion, largely down to teaching – or lack thereof. Which is why it’s great that, here in the UK, learning computer science is statutory from the age of 5 because it allows us teachers the (almost unique) opportunity to engage girls early in this creative and fascinating subject. Not just enabling them to enter into the tech industry later if they want to but because it’s absolutely crucial to know how to communicate, collaborate and express yourself in the modern digital world.
In her blog post of 2009 (when Ada Lovelace Day was born) Suw Charman-Anderson speaks of research pointing to need for women to need to see female role models. If that’s true then, given the amount of women teaching computing in the UK, we should surely see an upsurge in engagement in computing by girls and, empowerment through it! That is, if their role model’s are good ones; who show a passion and enthusiasm for the subject and teach it in creative, fun and challenging ways. I hope that, since its introduction into the National Curriculum in 2014, we are making good strides towards achieving this. There’s no excuse not to as there is a wealth of support and resources available to support teachers and schools. I regularly produce free lesson plans and support materials to, hopefully, inspire and motivate teachers of primary computing.
This Ada Lovelace day (13th October 2020) I’ve put together a step-by-step lesson plan and supporting resources adapted from iCompute’s Cross Curricular Computing pack for teaching Computing with History. Suitable for pupils aged 7-11, it involves researching Ada Lovelace and producing a webpage about their findings using basic HTML.
Download and use to show your pupils how women have been instrumental in the transformation of the technological world!
iCompute’s Liane O’Kane marks Ada Lovelace Day with #iLookLikeAnEngineer
I’m not cut out to be a participant in online social media campaigns. I’m a Computer Scientist and a teacher. Case in point: I’m having a touch of angst about a selfie I posted on Twitter yesterday to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day. I’m now wondering whether I’ve addressed sexism in the technology industry or perpetuated it?
Being a graduate of computing science in the 90’s where I was one only one of three women in my year and now as a teacher of computing, I was thrilled to see that #AdaLovelaceDay was trending on Twitter yesterday. I had just written a computing unit for primary pupils featuring her contribution to history as the worlds first computer programmer as part of my primary computing scheme of work. I then saw that it was being celebrated by thousands of women around the world in technology/science/engineering/maths posting photographs of themselves at work with the hashtag #iLookLikeAnEngineer. I joined the many women keen to dispel the stereotype of what constitutes an engineer – in my case a software engineer – by adding my photo.
All good. Except that I then spotted the BBC headline “‘Too hot to be an engineer’ – Women mark Ada Lovelace day”. The connotations of that headline and my contribution marking Ada Lovelace Day did not sit at all comfortably. Some posts on Twitter, by women, added to my unease: asking whether women posting images of themselves inevitably focused the conversation towards looks, thus perpetuating perceptions of women in technology. True, if that’s what is is about. But it’s not. Note the quotes in the headline – ‘Too hot to be an engineer’. That is a comment made by male colleagues to a female software engineer after she took part in a promotional campaign for her company. To put it diplomatically, they questioned whether her image fit that of a ‘typical’ engineer and suggested that people would find it unlikely that she was one. The Twitter campaign, #iLookLikeAnEngineer, has taken flight because women working in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) want the world to see that women are engineers – in my case a software engineer.
I’m not interested in showing men that I’m an engineer because I have never, in all my many years in the computing industry, encountered what I would call sexism. I’ve never missed out on a job, had my contributions dismissed nor been promoted because I’m a women. I’ve been mistaken for the tea lady in meetings but I didn’t get hysterical about it – I simply spoke with some authority on my subject and they no longer expected a milk with two sugars. I’ve also been asked, when taking notes, if I was writing a shopping list for making my husband’s dinner. That was a joke and I laughed. We women need to lose the silicone chip on our shoulders. They’re not out to get us and we’re not posting pictures of ourselves to look good.
I participated in the campaign because I’m a teacher and I want more girls to take STEM subjects. I want girls to know that they won’t be the first woman in technology (thank you Ada Lovelace) and that there are lots of us out there continuing to make a contribution. A contribution that we’d love them to be a part of. So girls, here is what an engineer looks like: