Image via Wikipedia
Today is Ada Lovelace Day - an event organized by Suw Charman-Anderson as a way to appreciate and recognize women in technology. You can see the pledge list here or read more about it here. What a great idea!
I would like to recognize two women who have been phenomenal mentors in my career. The first is Michelle Roloff with whom I worked at PRTM - she is no longer in technology but as a young professional without an engineering background working in an organization where almost everyone else had one, Michelle was critical to helping me navigate and gain confidence. I was assigned to cover the semiconductor market and I hadn't even taken high school physics (skipped junior year to spend a year in Germany). Michelle had worked as an engineer at Motorola. Despite my lack of qualifications Michelle never assumed that I couldn't understand and she took the time to explain the differences between diodes, analog ICs, and microprocessors. I still remember the description of semiconductors from another woman at PRTM (there were not many) that helped me the most.... she told me to think about a map of Manhattan and assume each traffic light was a gate, either letting through or stopping the circuit in a complex pattern. I owe Michelle my early confidence to continue in technology.
It was quite a while after working at PRTM that I ran into other senior women in the companies I worked for - maybe it is the fact that I've worked at start-ups but in the three software companies at which I have worked there was only one woman senior to me in product/engineering (or really in any management position now that I think about it). While it hasn't been an issue per se, I did crave more people I could look to in order to figure out my own career.
I found that person at IDC. Susan Feldman was my manager at IDC and had been in the enterprise search space for decades and runs the content technologies group at IDC. With a background in linguistics and library science she understands the complex problem of parsing and analyzing language like few others. More importantly to me and she was a generation ahead of me - a generation of which there are indeed very few women in technology - with the associated perspective of a long career. What I loved the most about Sue - and what I shared with her - is a rich enjoyment of technology and its potential. Sue is in the enterprise search space not because she fell into it but because she loves the problem space and has a ton of fun working through its issues. For that reason, Sue was incredibly energizing and fun. Sue also helped me understand the connection between content and its 'discoverability' and gave me a lot of respect for the issues around computer mediated language. One of her greatest strengths is simply articulating the complex problems around understanding language with algorithms. Among other things, Sue also introduced me to systems dynamics as a way to model and understand markets and other complex systems. Systems dynamics changed a lot of my thinking around modeling in general. We had a lot of fun building a search advertising and online content revenue model - it gave my mind a lot of fodder on which to grind.
Sue is also rare in a way that I have not seen a lot of in women of her generation - she has a family that she clearly loves and she raised two very accomplished children while working - but she is not conflicted about having a rich professional life. And while this should be the norm, I have not found too many conflict-free women who came of age in the 50s and 60s because they understandably did not have the support they needed to thrive both personally and professionally. Understanding how Sue has approached her career has really helped me to see how to carve out my own career given multiple different interests and demands on my time - and not feel overly conflicted about making compromises, either in the personal or professional realm.
So - thank you to both Michelle and Sue - you helped me immeasurably by modeling how to do it right and encouraging me. I doubt I would have the career I do without you.
Also a more historical shout out to Jean Sammet, a fellow Mount Holyoke grad, who developed the FORMAC language and was an early computer scientist.