Ada Lovelace Day

Per findingada, this is my Ada Lovelace tribute. My exemplar of women excelling in technology is one of the people who got me interested in – inspired me to take up – technology as a career. Despite not being a system administrator or a techie or a programmer or a designer herself, she nevertheless set a good example for me and, I believe, a couple of generations of young women she taught to use computers to solve problems.
This woman’s name is Dian, although when we talk on our weekly telephone calls, I call her Mum.
My mother isn’t any of what we would recognize as one of the traditional technical roles. She has a PhD in quantitative genetics and is a professor of animal science, but some of my earliest memories as a child involve going with her to the computer lab at the University of Guelph. She would set me up on a keypunch machine with a few cards while she did her own computer runs and other work.
When we moved to Nova Scotia, she helped to set up a computer lab at the Agricultural College, and one of the courses she used to teach involved computerized statistical analysis. I spent parts of a few summers helping her to run the lab, and got my start in security there too; I found some of the lab machines had been infected using Stoned while chasing down what I thought was a bug in a program I’d written to do hardware inventories.
I found out later that that class was infamous among some of her students; it was required for those who wanted to do the pre-vet program, and when I ran a business in the same town in which my mother teaches, I had a veterinary clinic as a client. The staff there had mostly done their pre-vet at the AC. Their expressions became very guarded when I told them who my mother was, and they cautiously expressed the opinion that the class was good but extremely tough, my mother a tough but fair professor, and that while they didn’t come out of the class loving computer analysis, they did respect the machine as a tool.
When I was 12 or 13, I came home one day to find my parents formatting floppy disks for their latest acquisition, a Commodore PC-10II. I know now that it was an 8088 at 4.77MHz with 640KB of RAM and a CGA adapter, but at the time I was slightly disappointed that it was not a Commodore 64. Nevertheless, I played around with it, and when I took a computer class in high school and learned some Pascal, my parents bought me a copy of Turbo Pascal 5.0. My mother encouraged me to continue programming and bought me upgrades to TP 5.5 and 6.0 Pro. I spent my allowance on and received for Christmas and birthday presents several programming books and tools: Pascal, x86 assembler, graphics, QuickC, Turbo Assembler, and probably lots of others I’ve forgotten. I was never an expert user of any of these tools, but I did learn a lot, went on to CS at UNB, failed out, and now I work in IT anyway.
I don’t know that my mother will ever win any awards for women in technology, but to me she proves that you don’t need to be a hardcore coder or a sysadmin to be successful at using computers. I hope her students learned that too, while they struggled with their analyses. She is definitely responsible for helping to put me where I am now.