My Ada Lovelace day tribute is to the inspiring Anita Borg, who was committed to bringing women into the field of computer science and whose work continues at…
In 1987, I was part of a small group of women in the software engineering group at Digital Equipment Corporation who were convened to work with Jean Baker Miller and colleagues at Wellesley College’s Center for Research on Women. Sometime during that fall, one of our group returned from a computer systems conference on the West Coast talking about how all the women at the conference (perhaps a little more than a dozen) had all had lunch together one day. Among those women was Anita Borg, who founded (from there or around that time) the systers list. Mailings from the list animated my days at Digital, as the postings ranged from the technical questions, to career support requests, conference room sharing and ride information, and into the deeply personal.
It was not a happy time for women in engineering. I had fared somewhat better, though I was not a software engineer per se and had been given many opportunities. As a “senior consulting engineer,” the first women from the documentation/information architecture field to be granted that title, I sat on the review board that approved candidates for promotion to senior positions in engineering. Anita was one of the few women engineers in these coveted positions.
She talked about the need to bring women into engineering every chance she got. But people weren’t always listening. I talked to her at an awards ceremony at which she was due to speak, sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, before Digital crumbled. She had prepared remarks directly focused at a number of senior managers in Digital who were present. However, one of them had earlier apologized that he would not be able to stay to hear her speak, because, Anita reported blood pressure rising, he had to “walk his dog.”
That is as as good a sign of those times as any. Thanks to Anita and her vision, the world has changed, but I think we are still not as far as we could be. And what could be? Jean Baker Miller, herself an inspiration to many women for pointing out at a time when it was not politic to say so, that “women are different from men.” She firmly believed that if women were designing the computers and applications that were becoming such an integral part of our lives, that the world would be very, very different.
I also blogged about this some time ago.