Today is Ada Lovelace Day, and it’s an opportunity to raise the awareness of the contribution that extraordinary women have brought to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Ada Lovelace is an English female Mathematician that is usually credited for coming up with the first algorithm that was to be processed by a mechanical computer called the Analytical Engine. Because of that, she has been widely seen as the first “computer programmer”.
The Anita Borg Institute and Symantec came up with this interesting info graphic that shows key accomplishments from brilliant women over the decades. I knew some of them as they are related to computer science, but for example, I had never heard of Stephanie Kwolek who came up with Kevlar, a material that is typically associated with “tough” activities such as car racing and the military.
The accomplishments of these remarkable women can also be used to point out that the idea that women can’t be good in math or engineering is bogus, but yet still hotly debated in some circles. While trying to find physiological reasons to explain why some technical fields are strongly male-dominated has been the main point of focus in the past, it would also be interesting to look at social and societal reasons why there are so few girls and women in some fields. Just to cite one number, there are only 1.5% to 3% of female developers in the Open Source community.
To this day, it’s not uncommon to see that girls are encouraged not to pursue scientific studies or careers. For having worked in the video game industry which was known for its male/female ratio, I have noticed that in places where the work population is male-dominated, being a female worker can be annoying and sometime outright difficult.
Things have gotten better over time, but much more can be done. As a society, we may be simply losing out on great talents if we don’t create the right condition to educate and inspire the smartest people, regardless of their gender. Right now, the department of labor reports that there is a huge projected 50% shortage of job candidates with technical skills in 2016.
In the end, you can look at it in a couple of ways. Some may want to see this as a “gender conflict”, but I think that it is much more productive to think of it as trying to nurture the best talent so that our society as a whole can thrive, and have people do something they are really good at, provided that they have the capabilities and skills.