When I think about women and technology and my involvement with both, two people come to mind. Both will probably be surprised, but for different reasons.
First, I think of my very dear friend Sarah, whom I met while we were in college. When we started building our friendship, we were in our junior year, and she was working for the campus computing help desk. She was the first person I knew, in 1996, who had a website. She understood html, and she could help people troubleshoot computers. I was fascinated — it never had occurred to me that this was something people that I knew could do. We weren’t tech-heads, we didn’t disassemble CPUs, we didn’t know how to program in complex code. We were just people, Sarah and I, and she showed me that it was totally within my capabilities to become proficient in practical computing. I never forgot that, and several years later when I bought my first computer without asking for “expert” help, and then when I started my first blog, and when I set up my first wireless router… I always thought about how my “Sure, I can do this” attitude started with realizing that normal people can be computer people. Sarah’s a lawyer in DC, now, and I’ll email this post to her — she doesn’t have much time these days for aimless web stuff — and I’m certain she’ll be amused at me, in that way that only good old friends can be amused. And then she’ll tease me about something, and it’ll be awesome.
The second person who came to mind is going to say something self-deprecating when she sees this, because that’s what Dorothea does. Dorothea Salo is becoming well-known for many things within and without our profession, but the one that struck me in this context is her attitude, similar to Sarah’s, that normal people can do this stuff. She advocates “beating things with rocks” — not always finding the elegant or delicate or easy solution, but finding the solution that can work for you with the tools you have at hand. Given my skill set and my available tools, I’m often beating things with rocks in order to make them work. I wouldn’t know how to write a CSS style sheet from scratch, but I’m highly capable of copying one and modifying it to suit my needs, and I attribute some of that willingness to just try it out… and maybe break it… and then do some online research… and then put it back together… to people like Dorothea who regularly advocate for independently acquiring the skills you actually need, when you need them, without hesitation, without trepidation, and without self-censure for perhaps not doing it ‘right’. I want to be an self-motivated learner who can solve problems when they appear, and Dorothea’s reminders, often told through her narrations of her own small successes and failures on Caveat Lector, keep me moving on that path.
So today, on Ada Lovelace Day, I say thank you to two friends who have no idea of the small boosts they’ve given me over the years. Which is perhaps the best kind of help — the kind that just comes from being who you are.