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Ada Lovelace Day 2009

Today is Ada Lovelace day. You can find out about what this means by looking at the website:

Put simply, I signed a pledge to, "publish a blog post today about a woman in technology whom I admire". I hope there are many more events like this.

So, on to my post:

The subject of my post isn't a woman nor in technology. She's my seven-year-old daughter and I want to describe a positive experience we shared in technology.

Like many children her age Penelope has used software such as a word-processor for writing letters to grandparents and painting software for all sorts of interesting creations.

However, Penelope was curious about what I did all day sitting in front of my computer: was I drawing pictures? writing letters? playing games? I explained that I designed and wrote software, "er… I write in a special computer language that tells it what I want it to do."

"Can I try?" was the inevitable response.

Remembering back to my own school days, I looked up the Logo computer language.

We spent a couple of hours playing together, she at the keyboard with me looking over her shoulder. She quickly learned how to control the "turtle" on the screen and then came to the realization that she could make the computer do interesting stuff that nobody else had thought of before.

We talked about some interesting maths: the concept of an algorithm (a recipe for getting stuff done), basic geometry (lines, points and angles) and basic flow control (repeat). We even managed to draw a box-flower:

    to sqr

        repeat 4 [fd 100 rt 90]


    repeat 36 [sqr rt 10] 

(draw a box, turn x degrees and repeat 360/x)

In the end Penelope was so excited we couldn't get her to go to sleep (we were doing this instead of bed-time story).

I want to draw your attention to the excitement that Penelope felt.

Like me, she now sees how much fun it can be to "create" on a computer.

The fact that she is a girl isn't (and shouldn't) be special. Unfortunately, women in technology are rare (I've never worked with a female developer and only worked with three female software architects). This is a problem because gender has nothing to do with the ability to create software. I can only assume that there is something cultural going on.

In conclusion, I hope that Penelope retains her sense of wonder at the creative potential locked away in computers rather than view technology as just another "boy thing".