Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to celebrate women in technology and science. Learn more at FindingAda.com and check out a list and a map of all the other blog posts around the world!
We talked a lot about what we wanted to do for Ada Lovelace Day this year, and ultimately we decided to make a list of women who have inspired us in our own lives, versus picking someone famous or well-known.
Barbara Lyons and Nancy Branom Genieser, Physicians
My mother, Barbara Lyons, and her best friend from medical school (and the woman I am named after) Nancy Branom Genieser. These women went to med school in the late ’50s – during that post-war era when women weren’t encouraged to do much outside of the home, let alone become physicians. But the part of the story that I really love is all of the adventures these women had together. They were both graduates of the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. After completing their coursework, and before graduation, they worked together in a clinic environment on a Navajo Indian Reservation for a year. They lived and worked with the people on the reservation, really experiencing Navajo culture. And every weekend they struck out on some new adventure: hiking, canoeing, exploring. They were young adventurers out to really see the world. As a kid those stories were so important and so exciting to me. I found inspiration in the fact that these two bright, funny, out-going nerd-girls could be so accomplished and balance their life of learning with so much fun. Both of them went on to be very well-regarded physicians with families and lives. But those stories of their youthful years as young doctors out to see the world were just pure joy to me.
Lisa Corp, Stage Manager Extraordinaire
In college I was involved in theatre and I probably wasn’t mature enough to take it as seriously as I should have to consider it as a career. I could certainly sing and act and deliver a punch line, but because I was more of a character actor than an ingenue, there was always plenty of competition for the meatier roles. It was my friend Lisa who encouraged me to think about theatre “tech.” I didn’t think I had any actual talent for the construction and design of a theatre experience. But Lisa disagreed. Lisa was hopelessly devoted to stagecraft — all of it. She understood the power and nuance of lighting and sound and the sense of place that a set created and that, when done well, the audience (and even the actors) took for granted. The environment created by the backstage personnel, more often than not, is another character in any show — with equal, but very different, weight and importance to the story. Lisa understood all of that and was passionate about it in her own quiet way. She inspired me to see beyond the spotlight to the, well, spotlight. And it opened up a whole new world of possibility to me. It also really influenced how I approach my work today in terms of management and process. Lisa passed away a few years ago from cancer. I never told her that, in addition to being my roommate and friend, she had also been a mentor. I hope she hears that now.
Mary McKinney, Teacher
My 8th grade science teacher Mrs. McKinney taught in a way that suggested that she wasn’t just about validating or encouraging the kids with left brain sensibilities. I remember her creating an open, positive, fun and experiential environment for learning. It was the only time in my academic life I remember having a good time in a science class. It was our energy and our interest, and not our aptitude for science, that dictated whether or not we got any respect in her classroom. As a result, her class is the only science class that stands out for me from my school years. Turns out, I did have an aptitude for science. I just responded better to experiential learning versus textbook learning and lectures. I think teachers are the unsung heroes of our culture. Especially now with education being such a politicized, hot-button issue. Mary McKinney was definitely someone who helped shape my view of the world and my place in it. For that I am forever grateful.
Ms. Voss, Teacher
Ms. Voss taught the first and only computer class that I took in high school. I couldn’t tell you what language we programmed in (I think it was BASIC), but I do have this sweet photo to show of my work:
Yeah, she took a photo of each of our projects. How sweet is that? And that’s back when you actually had to develop film! I’ve hung onto this photo since 1992; I remember clearly the sense of accomplishment I felt knowing that from nothing, I had created something. Sure, it was the cover art from an obscure ’90s band, but come on. I was 17. It felt deep at the time.
I get that same feeling of pride and accomplishment now every time I launch a web site with a team I’m working with. That feeling of knowing that without me (and each of us on the team) the site wouldn’t exist. The more complex the problem we’re trying to solve, and the more constraints on the project (budget, timeline, hardware, software, you name it), the bigger the rush. I love that feeling.
Margaret McInerny, My Awesome Mom
While my mom doesn’t work in the technology field, she’s influenced and encouraged my love of technology in a couple of ways:
First, in 1983, when Sally Ride became the first American woman to enter space, I became obsessed with the idea of becoming an astronaut. That year, for Halloween, my mom sewed me a handmade, quilted astronaut suit (with a helmet!) with a namebadge that said RIDE. I have a clear memory of how it felt to wear that costume, and to dream about going into space. I also clearly remember how it felt to have such a different costume; the other girls I knew were definitely not dressing like astronauts. But my mom always encouraged me to do what I wanted, whether or not other people thought it was cool.
Sadly, I have no idea where that costume is today. Even more sadly, as I grew older, the “baby” journals that my mom kept for me (I’m the oldest, I got a lot more ink than the next three did) started saying things like “Meghan says she hates math and wishes it would die.” Like so many girls, I rejected math and science in a way that I regret to this day. Part of my passion around speaking and educating people in technology is to try to prevent that from happening to other young women.
Which leads me to the second point I want to make about my mom. She embodies everything that the Geek Girls Guide is all about: embracing technology, learning new things, asking questions. She’s interested in how things work and is constantly trying things out. She’s a project manager at an advertising agency and is learning now about how to manage interactive projects. She’s on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr. She (with three partners) started a web site that sells photography. She doesn’t always know the technology, but she’s never afraid to ask a question or just figure it the hell out herself. She’s intellectually curious.
In short, I hope I’m a lot like her when I grow up.
Happy Ada Lovelace Day!
It’s been fun to share with you the women who, while not widely known or famous, have influenced the Geek Girls we’ve become.
Who inspires you?