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Since the BBC wrote about the closure of Ada Lovelace Day, we have had over a dozen companies get in touch, asking how they can help us save the Day. I am currently having a wide variety of conversations about what companies value about ALD and how we could make it more financially sustainable.

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The diverse world of women in tech

Michelle Szaraz, delivery lead at dxw, talks about what makes a woman a ‘woman in tech’ in this post from 2021. 

Michelle SzarazI’m not a super techie person and yet I spend at least 35 hours every week working in technical teams, designing and building digital public services. Beyond my day job as a Delivery Lead at dxw, I mentor, write, and speak about a range of business, career, and female empowerment topics, including women in tech.

I certainly consider myself to be a woman in tech, however, this wasn’t always the case. Until recently, I used to believe women in tech were exclusively those with a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) background. I’m not the only one to feel this way. There’s still a lack of clarity on who women in tech are, alongside a limited representation of their various experiences.

That’s why I decided to take advantage of Ada Lovelace Day and dedicate some time to sharing just how diverse the world of women in tech can be. I want to help push the inclusion of females in tech a step further, and make sure all women feel included regardless of their personal or professional backgrounds.

We need to make the technology industry, workplaces, and society in general more inclusive, and therefore happier and more productive places.

Am I a woman in tech?

Following my earlier career in a range of roles, companies, and sectors, from retail to international development, I jumped into the world of tech. It’s been a couple of years now, but it’s only lately that I started to see myself as a woman in tech. Why is that?

For a while, I thought my non-STEM education and professional experience meant I didn’t belong as part of the “women in tech” group. It wasn’t a completely unsupported assumption. Many activities and initiatives to increase female involvement in tech are centred around attracting women to STEM related qualifications and positions across the industry. This is applaudable (and overdue) because until not long ago, those opportunities didn’t really exist.

But what about all the females working in tech that don’t have a STEM background and/or don’t work in technical roles within the industry? Are they also women in tech? It’s a very clear yes from me. But we’re not always clear about that, both as individuals and institutions.

Only last week, for example, I joined a launch session for a “women in tech” mentoring programme. An expert in marketing asked whether she could be involved as a mentor because she didn’t have a technology background. She was not only reassured she could add significant value, but also surprised to find out she was in fact a woman in tech. The group reminded her that most marketing now happens online via social media and is “quite techie”.

So who are the women in tech?

I come across situations like the one above fairly regularly. I consider this lack of clarity about who women in tech are, a blind spot in the opportunities and support offered to promote female inclusion across the technology industry. A good starting point in tackling this is bringing attention to the diversity of experiences women in tech have.

I’ve been lucky to meet and hear stories from women in tech that come from a great range of backgrounds. And yet, until recently, I assumed there were 2 main female (stereo)types in tech – the STEM women in tech roles and those without a STEM background working in “non-tech” positions (like myself).

Pretty straightforward, right? At least it was, until I heard one of my colleagues speaking about her education and early career within the STEM field, before transitioning into the “non-technical” role she currently holds. After the initial, “Wow, mind blowing!” moment, it got me thinking. Just as women with non-tech backgrounds can train up to take on and grow into high level senior technical positions, it’s equally possible for females to shift from STEM roles into less technical ones throughout their careers.

In short, women in tech really do have surprisingly varied and unique career paths and experiences. And we don’t talk enough about that. We should!

What’s next?

Personally, I’d never considered that I could one day work in the technology industry until I got hired for a role in a digital technology innovation centre through a recruitment agency. Had I known what the position or the company was, I probably wouldn’t have applied. Why? Because I would have taken it for granted that I needed a STEM background to succeed. And in doing so, I would have missed out big time.

By being thrown into the tech world, I proved my own unconscious assumptions wrong before even realising I had them.

Sharing our individual stories and experiences as women in tech with different professional and personal backgrounds can make a huge difference to other females, both those already within the technology industry and those who might work in it one day. Beyond offering the, “Oh, it’s not just me then…” kind of realisations, it also helps us uncover where we need to pay extra attention and make more effort to progress.

And that’s how I’d like to wrap this post up – by encouraging not only my fellow dxw colleagues, but all other women in tech to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day by sharing their stories and the journeys that led them to a career in tech. I can’t wait to hear them!

About dxw

dxw logodxw is a leading employee-owned digital agency that works with the public and third sectors. Our employees are based across the UK. We get together for work and social things at our Leeds HQ and London hubs. We’ve made it our job to fix some of the really difficult stuff in government. We’re proud to have supported critical national infrastructure through the pandemic, including NHS England and Homes for Ukraine. We help organisations shape their strategy and design, build and run better digital public services. We work in the open wherever we can, you’ll find the way we work in our playbook and our code on GitHub. We became employee owned last year and we love it! It gives us the freedom to work on projects we’re passionate about and where we know we can add real value. Find out more at www.dxw.com. Twitter: @dxw

French post office releases Ada Lovelace stamp

French stamp featuring Ada LovelaceThe French post office, La Poste, released a stamp featuring Ada Lovelace on Ada Lovelace Day. The stamp costs €1.65 and is for use on priority international letters. A full sheet comprises 15 stamps.

La Poste’s page says (translation thanks to Google):

Ada Lovelace 1815-1852

“The Analytical Engine will weave algebraic patterns as Jacquard looms weave flowers and leaves.” – Ada Lovelace, Note A, 1843

Ada King, née Byron, Countess Lovelace, was born on December 10, 1815 in London. At a very young age, she began to study mathematics. It rises to a sufficient level to appreciate the work of a talented inventor, Charles Babbage. He has just developed an automatic calculator. Ada bends over these complex cogs and an intuition comes to her: what if, instead of handling only numbers, this machine also deals with symbols? She puts her intuition to work: it will be the famous “Note G”, published in 1843, the first computer program in the world. Ada will never know she was awesome. She died at age 36, on November 27, 1852.

Almost a century later, an American physicist named Howard Aiken makes a machine from Babbage’s gears and Ada Lovelace’s notes: the Mark I. This one will have many descendants: computers. In 1978, the new computer language of the US Department of Defense was called Ada. Ada Lovelace finally ceases to be a footnote in her father’s biographies. Ada ardently defended the idea of ​​“poetic science”. Fusing science and poetry within the same vision, she dreamed of a machine that would be able to speak previously unknown languages. She imagined IT, she pulled it out of nothing at a time when our modernity was barely waking up. His work, a fragile flower blooming within the mists of romanticism, rose like a sun over the second half of the 20th century and illuminates the third millennium. By shaping our future, Ada Lovelace marked our civilization as much as Pasteur, Einstein or Fleming. – Catherine Dufour

The stamp is issued on “Ada Lovelace day” Every year, on the 2nd Tuesday of October, this event celebrates innovative women in computing.

ALD22: Dr Elizabeth Rona, Nuclear Chemist

Elizabeth Rona

Dr Elizabeth Rona

Dr Elizabeth Rona was a nuclear chemist who became an internationally renowned expert on isotope separation and polonium preparation. She also confirmed the existence of “Uranium-Y”, known as thorium 231.

Rona was born in 1890 in Budapest. She studied chemistry, geochemistry, and physics at the Philosophy Faculty at the University of Budapest, earning her PhD in 1912. After graduation she worked at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, Karlsruhe University and then University College London before returning to Budapest when World War I started.

She joined Budapest’s Chemical Institute, working on the diffusion of radon in water before being asked to investigate a new element known as Uranium-Y, ie thorium 231, which she successfully separated from other elements. She confirmed that it emitted beta radiation and had a half-life of 25 hours. Her work formed the basis of later mass spectrography and heavy water studies.

She worked with chemist George von Hevesy, using radioactive elements as tracers so that they could more easily study chemical reactions. They studied the diffusion of radioactive tracers through different materials, gathering the data required to calculate an atom’s size. Von Hevesy eventually won the Nobel Prize for his work on tracers, and they are now used to help diagnose cancer, heart disease and other conditions.

She became the first woman to teach chemistry at a university level in Hungary, but the communist invasion of Hungary and the subsequent anti-communist White Terror made life and work there untenable. She moved to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute to work with Otto Hahn on separating ionium (now thorium 230) from uranium until she was transferred to a more practical role in the Textile Fibre Institute. She returned to Hungary in 1923, to work in a textile factory, but disliked the work and left to join the Institute for Radium Research of Vienna in 1924.

Rona learnt how to separate polonium from Irène Joliot-Curie in Paris, returning to the Radium Institute as a well-respected expert whose skills were much in demand. She worked with several collaborators, and her work with Berta Karlik on the half-lives of uranium, thorium and actinium decay, radiometric dating, and alpha particles won them both the Austrian Academy of Sciences Haitinger Prize in 1933. She returned to Paris to work with Joliot-Curie, who died not long after. Rona herself became ill, but later went to Vienna to share what she’d learnt with a group of other researchers who were working on a wide variety of research projects.

She spent some of World War II working in Sweden and Norway, but returned to Budapest to work at the Radium-Cancer Hospital where she prepared radium for medical use.

In 1941, however, she fled to the USA, eventually finding a teaching job at Trinity College in Washington, DC before being awarded a Carnegie Fellowship, and she began studying radium seawater and sediments at the Geophysical Laboratory of the Carnegie Institute. She assisted the Manhattan Project, giving them her method for extracting polonium.

She continued her work after the war, at the United States Atomic Energy Commission and then the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies, where she worked as a chemist and senior scientist in nuclear studies. She discovered that uranium levels in seawater are globally constant, but that thorium collects in sediments, so the decay of uranium to thorium can be used to date core samples. This method of dating is still used today.

She continued working despite two retirements, first from Oak Ridge and then from the University of Miami, returning to Tennessee in the 1970s.

Rona became aware of the dangers of radium early in her career, but her warnings of the dangers and requests for protective equipment such as gas masks were ignored and she had to supply her own. She managed to avoid radiation exposure, however, and survived at least two lab explosions.

She died in 1981, aged 91.

Further Reading