From Ada to WiTNY
We have a new collaborative program arising here in NY to support women in computing. WiTNY (Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship in New York) is a new technology initiative founded by Verizon, Cornell Tech Institute, and CUNY to support women students in computer science and related discipline. On April 1st , I attended the first annual New York City ACM-W Conference presented by Association for Computing Machinery, NY Technology Council, and CUNY Institute for Software Design and Development (CISDD), hosted by Microsoft and sponsored by Google, Verizon, IBM, Amazon, and many other tech companies. The Microsoft headquarters is an amazing place and I’m so glad they hosted us. The morning started with keynotes from a Microsoft Technical Evangelist, a women, and Bonnie John from Bloomberg L.P. who is a cognitive psychologist studying human-computer interaction. I never knew about “tech evangelist” until that day. According to the speaker, the job is so cool and dreamy as it sounds. Their messages were for women students to be persistent in CS. There were 4 panel discussions with CUNY and private college educators as well as entrepreneur CEOs. Also, the participants had opportunities to make personal connections with so called “important” people in the technology industry during the networking breaks in between the sessions.
When women were not allow to be educated in college or publish their scholarly articles, Ada Lovelace wrote the first computer algorithms that were intended to be carried out by a machine more than a century before the world’s first electronic general purpose computer was actually ever launched in mankind. Her brilliant notes written in her friend Charles Babbage’s work on Analytical Engine is so important in the computer science history and her innovation still inspires not only women but also anyone in computer related field. She was also a genius mathematician who had envisions of human interactions using computer technology in future society. It was almost 200 years ago when no actual computer existed at all.
Here’s some of her notes written back then:
“It may be desirable to explain, that by the word operation, we mean any process which alters the mutual relation of two or more things, be this relation of what kind it may. This is the most general definition, and would include all subjects in the universe.”
“A new, vast, and a powerful language is developed for the future use of analysis, in which to wield its truths so that these may become of more speedy and accurate practical application for the purposes of mankind than the means hitherto in our possession have rendered possible.”
How about now? Computers are everywhere. Almost everyone owns a smartphone. Women are free to pursue higher education. So, are we more innovative, thoughtful, and philosophical than 200 years ago? What’s the female population in the computer science field? Today, 60% of college graduates are women, but surprisingly less than 1% of women’s degrees are earned in Computer Science. What went wrong? What should educators do to encourage women to study computing? How would entrepreneurship do to narrow the gender gap in the computer related job industry?
The New York City ACM-W Conference was an eye-opening experience. I learned tremendous resources, possibilities, and support on women in computing. I also learned that Computer Science is not a science but it’s an art. It’s another way of human expression and practice of logical thinking. Above all, women are encouraged to take initiative and inspire others in computing. Let’s code!
Image: Painting of Ada Lovelace at a piano in 1852 by Henry Phillips. While she was in great pain at the time, she sat for the painting as Phillips' father, Thomas Phillips, had painted Ada's father, Lord Byron. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Ada_Lovelace#/media/File:Ada_Lovelace_in_1852.jpg