This is my Ada Lovelace Day post as promised in January. Today well over a thousand bloggers are posting posts about women in technology who they admire. The goal is the present role models to young women and girls as well as to highlight and honor the fact that technology is not just a man’s thing. I thought about a good many women to write about. Grace Hopper of course but I’ve written about her several times. Chris Stephenson who is the Executive Director of the Computer Science Teachers Association was another who came to mind. A number of computer science teacher came to mind as well. Several of those are listed in the list of CS teacher blogs on the side of this blog. Several textbook authors came to mind - Beth Brown who writes for Lawrenceville Press, Diane Zak who writes for Cengage Course Technology, Maria Litvin who writes for her own company, and of course the prolific Nell Dale. And there are a couple of women I work with in my current job – Diane Curtis and Hilary Pike – who I have great respect for. Just an awful lot of choices.
But in the end I decided to write about Thelma Thompson – my wife. The very first gift I ever gave her was a stack of punch cards – with pink trim. Geeky isn’t it? She still married me. She was taking a programming course at the time and we were not even going steadily yet. Later after we were married she spent some time programming bank teller machines. In machine language. She actually had to break bits off of little plastic “combs” that fit into a rotary drum in order to program these devices. Imagine examining a comb to debug your code? I’m not sure if she is a good debugger because her programs always seemed to work the first time out. She taught me the value of careful planning and desk checking of code before trying it out. And of documentation!
She spent part of her career writing documentation and training users in some of the earliest person computers back when a “personal computer” went for around $10,000 and small businesses were first starting to see that they could use computers. She has never been afraid of new technology but always jumps at the chance to learn new things and use them to solve both old and new problems. Yes she was and is a bit of a pioneer.
Today she teaches in a middle school and has taught in both elementary and high schools. She teaches with technology and she teaches how to use technology. She uses tools like Alice to introduce middle school students to programming and computer science concepts. She teaches students how to really use Internet search engines intelligently. She introduces more than the default in computer applications like Word and PowerPoint. And she models good practice in the things she does and the ways she uses technology. Besides teaching students she also teaches teachers and administrators how to use technology in their own practice – leading by example. She’s still a pioneer.
Lots of people point to the Fran Allen's (first woman Turing winner), the Grace Hoppers and the Ada Lovelace's of computer and technology history as heroes. And heroes they are. But the day to day heroes of today are teachers who insure that the heroes of the future learn about the creations of the heroes of the past. Thank you to all of you who are teaching students today!