The blog of David Wickes, software developer

Segmentation Fault

This is dedicated to my mother. It’s her birthday today. It’s also Ada Lovelace day.

Augusta Ada King, Countess Lovelace was the daughter of a poet, a friend and collaborator with Babbage, a socialite and a wit. She also wrote the world’s first computer program. If there were a patron saint for the creative coder it would be her.

Ada Lovelace day is a celebration of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. It’s also a day to reflect on the issues that face women who work in those fields. The biggest one being “Why are there so few women in tech?”

Makers Academy is commited to equality - the first day here when I told my partner how many women were students here she was surprised; “That many?”. I’m rubbish at statitics, but looking around the room you could guess at maybe 40-50% are women. It’s a good sign.

We’re holding a round table discussion on Women in Tech today (which is another good sign).

One of the panel (I’m awful with names) has just said that he’s horrified, as a father, about the segmentation that’s present in culture. He’s raising a son to be as gender neutral as possible - as happy playing in a kitchen as with a laptop. But he’s constantly battling against a culture that genders everything - pink and blue Kinder eggs with Barbie and Transormers respectively was his example.

My mum can do the numbers challenge on ‘Countdown’ faster than anyone I know. She’d be disappointed if it wasn’t done before Carol Vordeman pressed the button. She hates the anagrams. She’s always hated the anagrams. I hate the anagrams too. I love numbers because she loves numbers. If I’m good at coding then she’s had a hand in that.

She was told to be an English teacher when she was eighteen because she told the careers adviser that she quite liked English. She went on the be an amazing and dedicated teacher and retired this year. But what might she have done if she’d said she liked maths? Or science? Or almost anything else? Maybe she’d be a computer programmer now, retiring after a long life in COBOL and C and helping me with my JavaScript. Or maybe not - she was an amazing teacher. But who knows!

Or, worse, if her father hadn’t made her feel good and proud about being good at maths? Where would I be if my mum hadn’t liked puzzles and maths?

The problem isn’t ‘inside’ tech, it’s throughout society and culture. It might make you dispair. It makes me dispair sometimes. But don’t dispair - look, here - I’ll summarise the roundtable ‘take away’ actions for everyone to do. Fix the world one stupid ignorant problem at a time.

###Women### - Go talk to children about what you do. - Call men out when they say something offensive or just plain wrong. They’re proabably completely oblivious to the issue, so be polite.

###Men### - Listen. And be there and be nice. But mainly listen more. - Don’t think it’s not problem; educate yourselves and recognise the problem.

And one for everyone: ‘Own Your Ignorance’ (now that’s wise) - don’t bluff it, don’t fake it, don’t ignore it, don’t be scared of it. Your scope for improvement is your ignorance. (Maybe that should also involve owning other people’s ignorance too, feeding in to the points above…)

Oh, and one I hadn’t heard before – apparently the first version of Siri knew how to get you to a stripclub but had no idea how to get you emergency contraception.

Sexism, whether deliberate or accidental, is, like all evil (I’ll stand briefly with Plato on this) a consequence of ignorance of one form or another. Would you trust a coder who wanted to be deliberately ignorant?

Ignorance sucks.

Happy Birthday Mum :)