While I didn’t officially “pledge” for this (bah), I thought I’d throw something out there for Ada Lovelace Day 2009 – March 24, and write about a woman in technology whom I admire.
When I first thought about participating in this, I had some severe writers block. I just couldn’t think what or who I wanted to write about. And as I reflected on why this was so tough, it occurred to me that most of that came from a thought that goes something like:
“dangit, people, why aren’t we writing about about inspiring people in technology. What about people who inspired my career? Why does it matter if it’s a woman? I guess I just don’t get it.“
I, for one, want to be defined by – I want to be remembered as – many things, but not necessary because I am a woman. Rather because I am a good developer. Because I am intelligent. Because I am a nice person. Because I am a person who can figure things out. Because I am a person who helps others figure things out. Because I have good ideas. But not because I am woman.
Then, a person came to mind: the first woman programmer I ever worked alongside: Clar-René Sliper. I was a little, junior co-op, still in college. She was one of the senior members of our group. Aside from me, she was the only female programmer there. (There were other women around, just not programmers.)
I remember wondering how she got into IT. After all, there were so few women in my college classes. I can imagine that finding women in the field was even more rare when she got into IT. Yet whenever she was around, it just never seemed like – nobody acted like – she was any different than anyone else on the team. She was smart, I never saw her ideas ignored, she never got walked all over or had to put up with crap from anyone. And she never had to put forth any attitude to get that respect. The only difference was her name was Clar instead of Jim or Liem or André or Dean or Matt or Dave.
It’s not unusual for people’s first experiences with things to shape them going forward. Maybe those early experiences paved the whole way for me thinking: “People – this is not a big deal. Quit making it one. Singling people out only makes it worse.” You should admire anyone around you who deserves it. Man, woman, white, black, Asian, disabled, etc. Appreciate anyone around you who deserves it. And treat everyone around you with at least a basic level of respect, no matter what.
I appreciate Clar for unwittingly showing me that it is not that hard, or weird, to be as competent and capable as everyone else around me.