For Lady Ada Lovelace day (celebrating women in technology), I always like to write about not so much one specific woman in technology but about women generally. It's not just how do I choose, though that's hard: it's that by randomly picking some of the women I've talked to recently I feel I can point out the breadth of what women are contributing to tech.
It is hard to choose. Do I talk about Eileen Brown who used to run the Development and Partner Evangelism team for Microsoft in the UK and is now setting up her own social media consultancy and writing a book? How about Betsy Aoki; currently working with Bing Maps - when I first met her she was running the blogging platform for Microsoft just as blogging took off for business (and helped change Microsoft's image among technology professionals by putting the people who knew what Microsoft was doing in touch with the people who needed to understand it). Or Seema Ramchadani, who doesn't get the exposure of Joe Belfiore or Charlie Kindle but is the woman to talk to if you want to understand the technical depths of the Windows Phone 7 app platform (graphics and performance product manager for Silverlight on Windows Phone in Microsoft-speak). And as the fact that we've been in Redmond and at MIX recently is showing here, how about Molly Rector, the VP of product management at Spectralogic who singlehandedly convinced me that tape can still be a modern, powerful and value-for-money storage tier?
Or how about the fact that one of the nice things at the DEMO conference this week was seeing companies from so many countries (France, North Wales, eastern Europe as well as Silicon Valley); another was the number of women presenting those companies - and not just in marketing, but as CEO, like Robin Parker of Sutus, who sell an all-in-one small business appliance.
Why do we need to have a day celebrating women in technology at all? (It's less about Lady Ada writing the first program for the first computer (Babbage's Difference Engine) and more about why the first lady of computing isn't just the best-known lady in computing.) When the topic comes up, someone always asks why bother getting women into IT if they want to do something else. Because we need smart people in technology, whatever their gender.
Because if technology gets boring, unattractive and uninteresting to women that's a sign that the smartest men are going to lose interest in it as well; if the job isn't rewarding and the field doesn't appeal, women are just the first to leave. And for me the real answer is always because men and women think in slightly different ways, with slightly different emphases coming from slightly different directions; they don’t just solve problems differently, they see different problems. The wider the viewpoints and experience in the technology industry, the more problems people will notice and think of ways to solve - and the better life gets for everyone.
Perhaps one of the saddest things about Ada Lovelace, is how little remembered she is - even in our industry. I once worked in a startup that was using Regus space in St James Square, near Piccadilly. There was a blue plaque by the door, noting that it had been the home of Ada, Countess of Lovelace. I remarked to some of my colleagues on the significance of an IT startup in the home of the original programmer. Only a couple even knew who she was.
It's important that we open our industry up to all - and that we encourage women to become a visible, vocal part of the industry. Diversity is good for us all, it brings new ideas and new viewpoints. It's the very engine of the innovation we need. IT needs to be sex-, age-, gender- and colourblind. If you're recruiting, get someone to remove personal information from the resumes in front of you, freeing you from the unconscious prejudices we all have. I guarantee that you'll be surprised by the quality of the talent you find yourself bringing into your company and your department.
Go on. Do it for Ada.