So my Ada Lovelace Day post is a lot late. Ironically it is because I was so busy looking after our own Ada! I have great hopes that in 30 years time I will be able to write about her on Ada Lovelace Day!
Today is Ada Lovelace Day and bloggers are encouraged to write about women in technology and science. As the holder of not one but two Masters (or Mistresses!) of Science I feel downright obliged to take up this challenge. However as one of those MScs has been described as a “MSc for drawing pictures” and the other is in the social sciences you will understand that my take on science and technology might be a little broader than most. Rather than writing about one woman in particular I have decided to write about all the women who have inspired scientific thoughts in my mind over the years.
- I’m going to kick off badly with an assumption and that assumption is that whoever decided to install two science labs (and only one Home Ec. room) in my secondary school was a woman. It was a convent run school with maybe 5 male teachers, none of whom taught science, so is it a fair assumption? These labs were large, bright and, I thought, well-equipped (although I had never been in any other science lab so…). They were probably very old-fashioned with their wooden worktops and rolly blackboards compared to the labs that many schools would have nowadays. But all the wood and the trees outside conjured up the kind of lab you could imagine Marie Curie hunkering down in for some serious experimentation.
- These labs would have been all for nothing if the nuns who ran the school hadn’t timetabled plenty of science. No matter what choice of subjects that was made for Inter or Leaving Cert you could always mix in some science subjects. Not only that but science was afforded the same hours as core subjects English, Irish, Maths & French.
- I was also lucky to have some great teachers. Ms. Stevenson taught me science to Inter Cert with a no-nonsense approach. She also went on to have the joy of teaching me Chemistry to Leaving Cert and I’m sorry to have let her down at the last hurdle with that D. Ms. Mee taught me Physics to Leaving Cert and taught us above all, especially in Science, it’s all about experimentation. Every week she would demonstrate an experiment in our single Physics before lunch and not one of her experiments ever worked.
- My lab partners in Physics and Chemistry to Leaving Cert kept me going through the more boring parts of Organic Chemistry. A big shout out to S & M, you know who you are! S, in particular said one of the nicest if nerdiest thing to me ever when we were in sixth year. Discussing electormagnetics she said, “I always remember cathodes are negative and Roseanodes are positive.” A description I have always tried to live up to ever since.
- My mother has always been a keen advocate of technology especially as a teaching aid. She purchased an IBM PC for the family when I was still in secondary school. Also some thanks must go to the eldest “girl” in my family who brought computers into our home when other families were just getting to grips with VCRs. My eldest brother Blaise won a ZX Spectrum in a Telecom Eireann Art Competition (weird I know) and the headline under the picture of him with his long hair and the two actually female runners up the next day ran, “Three schoolgirls win prizes…” My mother was and still is an early adopter when it comes to technology and was the first person to teach me how to use a PC. Mainly she just left us at it which is what it’s all about really. Except when the child is three (covering my own ass for giving out to Nipper 2.0 messing with my laptop.)
- Science and I then parted company for a while as I studied Drama Studies and Modern Irish. That said there was some study of semiotics, the science of signs, and linguistics, the science of language, but no noteworthy women popped up. However aforementioned S and I communicated by email throughout this time as her science career continued overseas. At the time students in TCD had to apply for an email account, with the blessing of a lecturer from their faculty, and it was very complicated because I had to explain to my tutor what email was. I also spent a year in Glasgow University who were a little ahead of TCD and this helped me really develop my use of computers and the internet for communication and research.
- My MSc in Multimedia Systems introduced me to plenty of inspirational women not least Ada Lovelace herself as part of our gallop through the history of computing at the very beginning of the course. Between my female classmates and some of our lecturers my love of popular technology developed and grew. However, try as they might, my actual technical abilities did not and the word Java still send shivers down my spine. It’s all coming out now. A particular shout out to my favourite physicist – you know who you are!
- Since then I’ve had numerous jobs but my ability to use computers and the internet has always been part of my success. When I read (online!) about a new online course in Social Research Skills I knew I could do it and that the online aspect would be a boon for me rather than an obstacle. I would like to thank the course director, Professor Síle O’Connor, for taking a leap of faith and allowing someone with no previous social science qualification to undertake the course. I hope the fact that I and two other women were the first to complete the MSc online proved her right. It was tough going at times as I had to learn a whole new way of thinking. I was particularly inspired by our qualitative research skills lecturer Wendy Saunderson who managed to communicate her passion for qualitative research methods across time and space. I was only sorry that when it came to my thesis I ran out of time to include a qualitative section to put some of her training to the test.
- Since I started working with the Irish Internet Association I have, of course, met many inspirational female technologists, innovators and early adopters. If I start naming names, I’ll leave someone out so I won’t. That said it has not escaped my notice that I tend to be one of only a handful of women at technology events in Ireland. (It also hasn’t escaped my attention that I feel like a bit of a techfaux at many of these events but everyone needs fans and hangers-on, right?) If I have been given the honour of speaking at a business event I will generally be the only female speaker. Coming from a completely different sector which, up to a certain level, is female dominated, it was very noticeable to me how few women were visible in the online/ internet/ technology sector. This is not a new topic but it is certainly one that deserves to be raised regularly. Of course, I don’t think women should only be asked to speak because they are women but I have been asked to participate in initiatives where the fact that I’m a woman is an added bonus. In other words I would not have been asked without my expertise but I am being asked rather than a man with the same expertise because I’m a woman and it’s essential that the initiative include the views of women. Honestly I don’t know how I feel about that. I know it’s wrong but generally I think the exclusion of women in hitherto male dominated sectors is still an issue that needs to be underlined.
- I mentioned that my take on science & technology might be somewhat broader than most. I am going to include two architects. Firstly Dublin-based Celie O’Connell designed our beautiful home which is full of light and space and is a joy to live in. Secondly Louise Sliney is an amazing architect based in Cork who has created a beautiful home for herself to which she welcomes our whole family at the drop of a hat. If you need an architect either of these women will treat you royally!