Women have done so in the past and are equipped to lead the fu­ture of com­put­ing

The Star Early Edition - - LETTERS - Wes­ley Diphoko is the head of In­de­pen­dent Me­dia’s Digital Lab.

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.

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