Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ada Lovelace Day

Ada Lovelace was one of the world's first computer programmers, and one of the first people to see computers as more than just a machine for doing sums. She wrote programmes for Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine, a general-purpose computing machine, despite the fact that it was never built. She also wrote the very first description of a computer and of software.

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Women's contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines. Whatever she does, whether she is a sysadmin or a tech entrepreneur, a programmer or a designer, developing software or hardware, a tech journalist or a tech consultant, we want to celebrate her achievements.


So, here's an unsung heroine for you: The sysadmin down the street at your neighborhood elementary school.

She's got a lot of duties. She has to keep a patchwork of generations old computers, odd chunks to technology that the principal just had to have, wiring that was installed by the lowest bidder, and software that was never designed to be used together running smoothly. She has to drop everything and run to a repair at the drop of a hat because some teacher with 40 years in the classroom, immense pull with the union and zero experience with technology will have a fit if she can't get in to the Google. She has to buy parts, keep everyone in toner and copy paper, and keep all her software legal, with zero budget because her principal keeps using her department as a slush fund. She has to do everything in at least two languages, including convincing the people who manage the filtering software that yes, Spanish/Chinese/Korean/Hmong/what have you does come with an entirely new list of terms for sex. She also has to assemble that list, which can mean asking the native speakers she knows some really interesting questions. And every time the budget comes around she will fight for her job and her department.

And none of that is what makes her a heroine.

What, I think, a lot of regular bloggers and blog readers don't realize is that in many low income/low education homes, if there is a computer it's the plaything of the boys. It's used for games or for looking up porn, or maybe, maybe Dad's paperwork. Mothers and sisters and daughters don't touch that valuable piece of equipment, ever.

So at least once a week she will walk into a classroom with a male teachers and hear the biggest loudmouth boy in the class pipe up: "You gonna let her touch that teach? Oh, man! No way man! Girls don know nothing' 'bout computers, man! She gonna break it, we not gonna have anything!" She will look up and see a group of boys, the ones who always hog the machines, forming a wall with their backs that keep the girls out, slumping in their seats and shaking their heads in disgust.

And then she will swap out the motherboard/fix the network card/install the memory so the software will run/install the latest update. And it will all work again.

She will look up with a smile, politely ask the teacher if she may interrupt his class, and inform the boys students that their computer is working, and that girls can do anything. She will watch the boys chuckle and shake their heads in disgust and disbelief.

She will meet the eyes of the girls, and see them glow and smile as their minds open to the possibilities.

She just became their first role model for women in science and technology.

And in that quiet moment between Social Studies and lunch, she just became a heroine.

1 comment:

Kate said...

Totally awesome.