What I Learned From My Female Technology Colleagues
As we celebrate Women’s History Month and take the time to look at the extraordinary contributions of women to our society, I want to talk about the women who shaped my career.
My computer science master’s and Ph.D. thesis advisers were both women. They were from the early breed of women computer scientists of the 80s and 90s. I owe my style of thinking and problem solving to them; I owe several research papers to them; I owe my technology career to them.
I never thought of their gender; I simply saw them as superb professors. One may ask why, therefore, write about ‘women’ in technology. The simple answer is that there is not enough like them, and as a result, we are all missing out.
Through my many years of experience working with several leading female technologists, I have seen unique perspectives that those women have brought to the table. There always seems to be a common element: a holistic approach to problem-solving compared with deep, point solutions.
My colleague in IBM research brought focus on female speech synthesis for more natural speech synthesis in multiple languages; my colleagues in Nokia introduced creative ideas in mobile phone designs for women; my colleague and IBM Fellow at IBM Tokyo, herself visually impaired, pioneered the whole area of web accessibility. My female colleagues working in payments at ACI showed me how women conduct e-commerce transactions differently than men; my colleagues right here at Skillsoft explained how women learn differently than men.
As technology pervades more of our daily life, there is an increased need for holistic solutions that solve problems in context, not in isolation. In my experience holistic solutions are where women excel, and that is why there is a dire need for more women in technology.
Recently I saw the founder of Girls who Code present at a conference and I was delighted to hear that their membership is now close to a hundred thousand. A tremendous change from the early nineties, the days when I watched my advisers go into “Systers” meetings where small groups of women technologists gathered. Called Women is Systems, they formed a community created by computer science matriarch Anita Borg, with only twelve members.
Clearly a hundred thousand is a long way from a dozen; however, even a million girls who code is not enough.
Apratim Purakayastha (AP) is the Chief Technology Officer at Skillsoft.