Monday, February 17, 2014

Empowering Women in Technology

How can we empower women in technology?  This has been a question for many years.

Traditionally, technology has been a very male-dominated field.  In college (ancient times, I realize), there were few girls in our classes, and the only time we saw girls in the hall was when the psychology students came over to use our large classroom in the EE building, as they didn't build a large classroom in the "new" psychology building next door.  However, things are changing.

There have been women involved in technology and science throughout history, but not nearly as many as men.  For example in astronomy, a few are Caroline Herschel (1750-1848) who discovered several comets and Vera Rubin (1928-present) who has discovered the galaxy rotation problem.  Attempts to explain the galaxy rotation problem led to the theory of dark matter.

Women in computing also have a very long history.  In the 1800s, Charles Babbage designed (but did not build) his analytical engine, and Ada Lovelace, the daughter of poet Lord Byron, wrote programs for it  Her notes on the Analytical Engine between 1842 and 1843 are widely believed to be the first computer program.  The computer language Ada is named for her.  Admiral Grace Hopper was one of the first programmers of modern computers, created the first high-level language (COBOL), and coined the term debugging.

More recently, there have been women like Limor Fried (website) who created Adafruit Industries, specializing in open source hardware and software.  She was the first female engineer featured on the cover of Wired magazine.  She is quite well known in the MakerSpace world (and yes, I have many products from her company).

In the last few years women have risen to lead some large companies including Meg Whitman (president of HP), Linda Hudson (former president of BAE Systems), and Marissa Mayer (president of Yahoo).  These women lead very large companies in industries that are still very male-dominated, but times are changing.

My forte these days is computing, so of course I must ask "What is the best entry point for women in computing?".  According to this interview, it is Open Source.  This is another article that discusses how open source can empower women.

Why open source?

  • Low barriers to entry to become involved in open source
  • You can become involved at any age and at any point in your career
  • Open source software provides an immediate connection to your work
Give Open Source a spin.  Get involved.  Get your kids involved.  

Build stuff! Have fun!

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