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a man slumped on his desk, from 'The Sleep of Reason Produces



An Army of Adas

I gave up picking just one woman in tech who has inspired me over the years. I certainly knew that I couldn’t list them all. Here’s a roughly chronological list, which breaks down at the end when I realise that there could be no end.

I worked a Saturday job as a teenager at an IBM dealership when I was around thirteen. The first professional programmer I’d ever met worked there. She was incredibly smart and calm, and I remember being very impressed that you could actually make a living wage coding, instead of having to hide away in your bedroom hacking up ZX Spectrum platform games until somebody mystically gave you a Jaguar.

To save time, I will now skip a little arbitrarily (hello, Verity Stob!) across a few decades.

Out of my entire generation of Net-inspired London geeks in the Nineties, Pouneh Mortazavi was the only with enough initiative to do what everybody else dreamed of: she upped sticks to San Francisco alone. First she worked at Wired, holding together their databases; thereafter she started the Flaming Lotus Girls. She was always like some George Washington of a self-collected militia, marshalling and deploying technology and resources, cajolling and inspiring.

My ex-wife, Quinn Norton, has a aircraft-carrier full of skills and virtues, but if I had to pick a technological trait I admire most in her, it would be her ability to see its historical context, as well as extropolate it into the far future (and also her Perl coding style, which is the weirdest damn thing I ever did see).

Leslie Harpold simultaneously drove up the standards of web design, usability, and common human decency online. She’s still missed.

Annalee Newitz and I worked at EFF, and shared a career in writing 1000 word pieces on 1000 year topics, before she finally ran off to join the io9 intergalactic circus and exploration unit. She’s the embodiment to me of the one of the sublime joys of technology: jumping into the deep-end with just a laptop and a head filled with implications, and asking smart questions until you know as much as the expert will admit.

Cindy Cohn, legal director, and Shari Steele, executive director, of the EFF: I simply can’t list how much you owe those two people — but free crypto, and a censorship-free US Internet is probably a good start.

Suw Charman-Anderson, the creator of Ada Lovelace Day deserves a place on this list just for that, but she’s takes her place here because of her work binding technology and civil liberties together as the co-founder of the Open Rights Group.

I suspect Valerie Aurora will be on many people’s Ada Lovelace Day lists. A kernel hacker who can write, and whose writing can make me laugh out loud or smack my head in revelation.

Liz Henry wields technology as it should be: a fire to protect what’s right, and a blast of fresh air to winnow out what’s wrong. I’ve never seen any quite so able to pounce on new tech and bring it swiftly to bear on a societal problem, as well as explain its uses to those who might otherwise be bypassed by this revolution.

Becky Hogge was ORG’s second executive director, and another forger of ideas. Astoundingly good at herding other geeks, tech wonks, and MPs into spaces where they could all understand each other.

I get far too much attention for doing one single lousy talk about “life hacking”, whereas Gina Trapani deseves all of the credit for turning a dumb idea into a a brilliant, long-lived work of real usefulness — and for cranking out the code.

On the same note, butshesagirl‘s Getting Things Done application, Tracks, got me through some tough times. I admire anyone whose managed to keep an open source project on course, but I was particularly impressed by bsag’s skills. I watched and I hope learned.

And now no time to talk about the community chops of Cait Hurley, Rachel Chalmers’ piercing analysis, Rebecca Mackinnon’s work at connecting the world, Sara Winge’s genius at O’Reilly, Anno Mitchell’s sardonic Web 2.0 charisma, Strata Chalup’s sysadmin and southbay knowledge, Kass Schmitt sailor and LISPer, Silona Bonewald’s politech savvy, Sumana Harihareswara’s geek-management hybridism, Ana Marie Cox’s snark, Cherie Matrix’s cultural vortex, Elly Millican’s web aesthetic, Wendy Grossman’s sceptical optimism, Desiree Miloshevic’s globe-trotting ICANNoclasm, the piercing tech analysis of Susan Crawford (now working at the Whitehouse!), Sarah Deutsch, Kim Plowright, Paula Le Dieu, Charlie Jane Anders, Violet Berlin, Biella Coleman, Alice Taylor, Sophie Wilson who designed my entire teenage life…

These people make the world my daughter, Ada, lives in. I’m honored she has such shoulders to climb.

This was posted as part of the Ada Lovelace Day project; if you’d like to read more, I enjoyed Liz and butshesagirl‘s entries, spent a long time thinking about this sad and all too typical story, and saved the story of En-hedu-Ana, mapper of the stars, for Ada’s next storytime:

The true woman who possesses exceeding wisdom,

She consults [employs] a tablet of lapis lazuli

She gives advice to all lands…

She measures off the heavens,

She places the measuring-cords on the earth.

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petit disclaimer:
My employer has enough opinions of its own, without having to have mine too.