Women have done so in the past and are equipped to lead the future of computing
THE ISSUE of discrimination in the technology sector has reared its ugly head again, this time around via a memo written by a Google employee (now fired). In the memo he suggests that a woman’s biological tendencies (agreeability, neuroticism, empathy, etc) makes her less equipped than a man for certain jobs.
In his mind this seems to be the reason behind the challenge of a shortage of women in the technology sector.
He is just one of the few who shares the twisted view about women in technology. History and facts are not on his side, and people who share this view. History tells us that women have played a significant role in the advancement of technology.
One woman who comes to mind is Ada Lovelace.
Her story was brought to light by Walter Isaacson, the author of The Innovator, in which he narrates a story of a woman who is forgotten in the tech world, Ada Lovelace.
According to Wikipedia, Ada Lovelace was an English mathematician and writer, chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine.
She was the first to recognise that the machine had applications beyond pure calculation and created the first algorithm intended to be carried out by such a machine.
As a result, she is often regarded as the first to recognise the full potential of a “computing machine” and the first computer programmer.
When she was a teenager, her mathematical talents led her to a long working relationship and friendship with fellow British mathematician, Charles Babbage, known as “the father of computers”, and in particular, Babbage’s work on the Analytical Engine.
Lovelace first met him in June 1833, through their mutual friend, and her private tutor, English mathematician and writer, Mary Somerville.
Between 1842 and 1843, Ada translated an article by Italian military engineer Luigi Menabrea on the engine, which she supplemented with an elaborate set of notes, simply called Notes.
These notes contain what many consider to be the first computer program – that is, an algorithm designed to be carried out by a machine. Lovelace’s notes are important in the early history of computers.
She also developed a vision of the capability of computers to go beyond mere calculating or number-crunching, while many others, including Babbage himself, focused only on those capabilities.
Her mindset of “poetical science” led her to ask questions about the Analytical Engine (as shown in her notes), examining how individuals and society relate to technology as a collaborative tool.
Lovelace was an incredible woman and a catalyst for innovation and invention that has spawned the digital age as we know it today.
She pioneered software programming and even roughly described the concept of the computer. Thanks to Lovelace, we now have the software that powers our computers, iPhones, and just about everything else in the modern world.
The world has changed since Lovelace conceived the early concept of the computer punch card. Now we have another group of women who are leading and will continue to lead the future of computing in the world.
The following are just some of the women who are leading the technology revolution in Africa:
Juliana Rotich: One of the respected female technologist in the world and the African continent. She is co-founder of BRCK, a hardware and services technology company based in Nairobi, Kenya.
BRCK was formed to realise a vision for enabling communication in low infrastructure environments by developing useful, innovative, and exciting hardware-centred technologies in Kenya.
Rotich co-founded also Ushahidi, a nonprofit tech company, which specialises in developing free and open source software for changing how information flows in the world.
She was executive director from 2011 to 2015, strategically spearheading Ushahidi to be translated into more than 30 languages, more than 90 000 deployments and a 20 million population reach.
She was instrumental in increasing business development revenue and philanthropic capital into Ushahidi and its related initiatives like iHub.
Before Ushahidi, she worked in the telecommunications and data warehousing industry with more than 10 years of experience.
Rapelang Rabana: She was the founding chief executive of Yeigo, an innovative Cape Town-based company that developed some of the world’s earliest mobile VoIP applications.
Yeigo created ground-breaking applications and services that took advantage of the internet, mobile and cloud computing technologies to tackle the cost of communication.
In 2008, the Swiss-headquartered Telfree Group of Companies, a pioneering next-generation telecoms operator, acquired a majority stake in Yeigo, enabling the group to provide the full range of telecommunications services as a fully licensed operator in South Africa.
Aisha Pandor: A South African start-up female entrepreneur and co-founder of SweepSouth, an online platform for ordering and paying for home cleaning services within a few minutes. She studied at the University of Cape Town (UCT), where she completed a PhD in Human Genetics and a Business Management certificate at the UCT Graduate School of Business.
When she graduated in 2012 she became the first student to graduate with two different qualifications on the same day. She also worked as a management consultant with Accenture before embarking on her start-up journey.
Ory Okolloh: Kenyan blogger and indefatigable open-government activist, is a co-founder of Ushahidi, a pioneering, free open source platform for crowd sourcing crisis information. Ushahidi, which combines mapping with eye-witness reports, has been used to monitor elections in Kenya, Mexico and India, track violence in the Eastern Congo and map post-earthquake crisis in Haiti.
Prior to co-founding Ushahidi, Okolloh founded Mzalendo, a website that helps Kenya’s electorate keep track of the activities of their representatives in parliament. Mzalendo was designed to closely monitor and analyse every bill, every speech and every MP who passes through Kenya’s parliament, hence promoting transparency and accountability in government.
These women and the story of Lovelace should debunk the myth that females have no role to play in the advancement of technology today. These stories should inspire technology corporates to make spaces for females to drive innovation.
More importantly, it is critical to share and tell stories of women who are making an impact in the technology sector to avoid the current narrative that men are the only super innovators in tech today.
As part of this process, The Infonomist (a data platform by Independent Lab) will be adding a feature in its data development process that will include women who are leading and shaping technology on the African continent.
These women and the story of Lovelace should debunk the myth that females have no role to play in the advancement of technology today.
Ada Lovelace, an English mathematician and writer and daughter of Lord Byron, worked on the world’s first computer in the mid 1840s and pioneered software.
The covers of two books that brought Ada Lovelace’s achievements to the attention of a modern audience.
An early computer.