Tag Archives: Women in Technology

Code + Collaboration – Open government is greater than the sum of its parts

The challenge of genuine, sustained, respectful collaboration, both the hope and the life blood of the information age, fascinates me. Over time I have learned to value viable collaboration and to celebrate the power of a diverse community of human beings who share the serious work it takes to identify, then achieve, a common purpose. I understand that collaboration is organic. More important, I appreciate that, while people and organizations will pay for goods and services, no one wants to pay for collaboration.

At last week’s CodeforAmerica Summit I relished the experience of serious, mature collaboration for a mighty cause, to build an open government movement. In breakouts, hackathons, formal presentations and everywhere in the hallways geeks, gurus and gawkers engage in the real work of collaboration, with little time or inclination to ponder the fact that the “labor” in the term is not by chance.

Yes, there were lots of geeks, many of them volunteers, speaking in code and acronyms, feverishly enthused about open government and apps to make that happen.   And then there were the corporate types eager to share the systems their companies have designed to expand the market by making local, state, federal, even global information more accessible to more concerned citizens.

And there were droves of representatives of the public sector – elected officials, data gurus, librarians, analysts, planners, advocacy groups concerned about everything from public transit to clean water to food shelves, public education and emergency services.

Each of these constituencies assumed personal and institutional responsibility to hold their government accountable – and to help their neighbors, communities and institutions understand and engage in the open government movement.

Some resounding themes of the CodeforAmerica 2014 Summit that stand out in my reflections:

  • Focus on the user – how designers must learn to listen to and sincerely engage users, both end users and those whose job it is to serve end users;
  • The need to embed sustainability into the system and into the environment in which the system will survive and thrive;
  • Deep respect for the commitment and role of public servants who have ideas to share but are too often constrained by the system itself;
  • The expanding and change-making role of women in the field of technology for the public good;
  • The internal connections that link the many nodes of the open government movement — the continuum that spans from the individual member of the public to a world of government information that ranges from local transit to climate change and food security;
  • The role of broadly defined collaboration among government officials, public employees, citizen activists, and the information industry.

The participants in CodeforAmerica 2014 are designing the tools that improve interactive communication between government and those governed. I hope these same folks and pioneers of their ilk will find time and support to reflect on their experiences as builders of technologies that re-order democratic systems. I also hope that these dreamers and creators will record their ideas about the capacity of the tools and the needs of the people so that together the sectors they represent will see the wisdom of collaboration as the only path if we as a society are to create an enlightened market for open government that is accountable to the public and that befits the digital promise of the world’s democracies.

Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing to Meet in Minneapolis

During the coming weeks Minnesotans will be hearing the name “Grace Hopper” with unaccustomed frequency.  The reason – The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is meeting at the Minneapolis Convention Center October 2-5.

The Grace Hopper Celebration is the world’s largest gathering of technical women in computing. It is the venue in which technical women gather to network, find or be mentors, create collaborative proposals, and increase the visibility of women’s contributions to computing. The Celebration was co-founded by Dr. Anita Borg and Dr. Telle Whitney in 1994.

Though the namesake of the conference may be legend to participants, it behooves the rest of us to brush up on our knowledge of stellar women in computing.

Grace Murray Hopper (1906-1992) was a pioneering computer scientist and Rear Admiral in the United States Navy.  She joined the Navy Reserve during World War II and worked as one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark 1 computer.  In 1952 she wrote the first computer programming compiler and later worked on development of the business language COBOL  Hopper’s work played an enormous role in creation of the basic structures that still undergird digital computing.

Throughout her life Hopper multi-tasked in multi-settings.  She went back and forth among institutions in the military, private industry, business and academia.  She was regarded in each setting as a strategic futurist in the rapidly advancing computer environment.  Hopper is probably best known for her work on making computers understand ordinary language, the root of her work with COBOL She worked on a practical language, she said, because she was “lazy” and hoped that “the programmer may return to being a mathematician.”

Upon her retirement Harper was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the highest non-combat award given by the Department of Defense.

Howard Bromberg, another computer pioneer, described Hopper as a “mathematician, computer scientist, social scientist, corporate politician, marketing whiz, systems designer and programmer – and visionary.”

Keynote speaker for the Celebration is Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, author of the blockbuster book Lean Forward: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.

Traditionally the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing has commissioned a poster to commemorate the conference.  The posters have focused on depicting a mix of technical women gathering at the site of that year’s conference.  This year planners chose Ecuadorean graphic artist Jose Ortega to create a striking poster that builds on the Celebration’s theme “Think Big, Drive Forward.”


Women’s History Month 2013 – Lots to Learn, Leaders to Honor

The roots of today’s Women’s History Month run deep, the ideas and energy nurtured by the same energy that burst forth over a century ago with the first International Women’s Day, celebrated in 1911.  Imagination, commitment and collaboration have created what is now a national traditional in this and other nations, observance of March as Women’s History Month.

In the late-20th Century, as the women’s movement advanced and women’s studies gained recognition, schools, academic institutions, women’s organizations and states created local Women’s Week initiatives to promote further study and awareness of women’s contributions.  In 1981 Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Representative Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) co-sponsored the first Joint Congressional Resolution establishing Women’s History Week.  By 1989 the observance expanded to a month.  And, as happens with Congressional resolutions, the wheels of the bureaucracies began to turn; stories emerged as researchers dipped into the archives, libraries strengthened their collections, educators produced curriculum and support materials, events and activities engaged students, and whole communities in learning the stories of women’s contributions.  In 2011 the Obama Administration released a report on fifty years of progress in honoring Women’s History.

Today, responsibility at the federal level rests with a number of agencies to continue the work of exploration and celebration.   A host of federal agencies play a role: The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art,  National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and numerous other agencies, including the Department of Defense, have a contributing role in providing resources and sponsoring programs that focus on the contributions of women.  Resources abound – and just reading about the resources is great fun.

A key player at the federal level is the National Women’s History Project highlighted here.  A priority of he NWHP is to select a theme for the year – not to exclude but to highlight outstanding accomplishments within specific fields.  Recent themes have been “Writing Women Back into History” (2010), “Our History Is Our Strength” (2011) and “Women’s Education-Women’s Empowerment” (2012).  Based on the annual theme, states and local groups are encouraged to develop their own unique programming and approaches.

The 2013 theme for national Women’s History Month is “Women Inspiring Innovations through Imagination:  Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” (STEM).  In preparation for Women’s History Month 2013 the NWHP identified an astounding list of women nominated for special commendation. From the nominees the selectors named a cohort of eighteen women chosen as “extraordinary visionaries and role models” in the STEM fields where, the selectors note, women are still noticeably underrepresented.”  The list of eighteen women covers decades, geography, fields of interest and affiliation.  Reading the accomplishments listed for each honoree expands one’s very comprehension of the depth and breadth of the paths they have chosen – and in which they have succeeded.  Very briefly, the list of honorees includes:

  • Hattie Elizabeth Alexander, 1901-1968 – Pediatrician and Microbiologist
  • Marilyn Barrett, 1954-                    K-12 STEM Educator
  • Patricia Era Bath, 1942 –                    Ophthalmologist and Inventor
  • Elizabeth Blackwell, 1821-1910, Physician
  • Katharine Buss Blodgett, 1898-1979, Physicist and Inventor
  • Edith Clarke, 1883-1959, Electrical Engineer
  • Rita R. Colwell, 1934-      Molecular Microbial Ecologist and Scientific Administrator
  • Diane Fossey, 1932-1985, Primatologist and Naturalist
  • Susan A. Gerbi, 1944-    Molelcular Cell Biologist
  • Helen Greiner, 1957- Mechanical Engineer and Robotocist
  • Grace Murray Hopper, 1906-1992, Computer Scientist
  • Olga Frances Linares, 1936-    Anthropologist and Archaeologist
  • Julia Morgan, 1872-1957, Architect
  • Louise Pearce, 1895-1959, Physician and Pathologist
  • Jill Pipher, 1955-      Mathematician
  • Mary G. Ross, 1908-2008, Mechanical Engineer
  • Susan Solomon, 1956-      Atmospheric Chemist
  • Flossie Wong Staal, 1946-     Virologist and Molecular Biologist

The list of names and professions inspires the uninitiated to learn more. Brief bios of each of the honorees are published here.

The NWHP planners went on to identify the names, dates and affiliations of all of the 115 nominees.  There are teachers and writers, a couple of astronauts, physicians, inventors, and women who were at the pinnacle of fields I could neither pronounced now explain.  That full list is also included here.

Without a chart or a footnote we know that most of these women inherited a vision of the possibilities by learning from and working with their forbearers.  We know, too, that younger women and girls have some mighty – if dainty – footsteps in which to follow.  The list itself suffices to start even this unreconstructed liberal arts major to further explore, possibly understand, the nature and impact of their contributions.

More to follow on the contributions of one pioneer Minnesota woman who cut a wide swath in the pre-STEM world of engineering and architecture.  More, too, on some of the ways in which Minnesotans are carrying on the tradition of Women’s History Month.