The 9th October 2018 marks the 10th year of celebrating Ada Lovelace Day. Lovelace, born in 1815, is probably best 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 published 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.
But I have something to admit – until I started working in the tech industry, I didn’t know about Ada or her inspiring background.
And, despite much being done to encourage more women into technology (with special days like Ada Lovelace Day helping to promote the fact), unfortunately, I don’t think enough has been done to translate this into action. For example, when I speak at conferences, I am still speaking to a room that is primarily filled with men.
I enjoy working with some of the best people in the business – both male and female; but rather than be in the gender minority, it would be great for increased parity and to see more women coming through the doors into the industry as research has shown that diverse teams perform better. Sadly, it is estimated that there has only been a 4% increase of girls taking up STEM subjects in the last four years .
To enact change (and I mean real change), I believe this means going back to the classroom. I am part of a group from Brightsolid, who (through our owner, DC Thomson) have recently visited 5th Year students through a series of career events.
From my conversations, it’s clear that students are most confident and enthusiastic about vocations when making their plans on careers. Vets, lawyers and doctors all came out as the most popular likely career paths; working in technology wasn’t high on their agenda. This is a shame given that it is estimated that 85% of the jobs of 2030 haven’t been created yet. As such, surely now is the time to start thinking about whether tech could be part of their future.
One way to encourage more adoption is to consider industry role models. Within business, there are some stand-out male role models; Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg to name a few. While lesser known, we are seeing some female trailblazers emerge within the UK tech scene; with Hadley Beeman, Meri Williams and Catherine Breslin to name a few. But if I asked those same students I met with to pull a similar list together, I think they might struggle to name many people past Sheryl Sandberg.
Given the boom we are going to experience in tech jobs over the next decade, days like Ada Lovelace Day should be used in school curriculums and at home to spark conversation about relatable modern-day heroes with today’s young people to inspire their future career choices. By starting at the grassroots, this may help to shift that traditional career thinking so that we are able to translate it into more females moving into engineering, software development and even more technical roles.