Notes: Dame Wendy Hall at WomENcourge – How to Enjoy a Career as a Woman in Computing – The Power of Networks

All about networking, she’s always been a member of a women’s organisation.

Doesn’t like to go on about being a woman, likes to win because she’s the best (or one of).

Parents suffered in the war, father was a POW (prisoner of war). Were determined to give their kids a better life than they’d had.

Started as a mathematician. Wanted to be a medical doctor. Headteacher said medicine was not a career for women. Went to Southampton. Loved mathematics. Thought she might be a teacher. Did a PhD. Thesis was on Automorphism and Coverings of Klein Surfaces.

Hardly any jobs, couldn’t get a job as a mathematician. Applied for a job teaching maths to engineers. 6-8 men interviewing. All other applicants men. Was told “wanted to give you the job, others objected because you’re a woman”. It was 1977, so people could say things like that. They didn’t think a 24 year old could control a class of male engineers. In the end, got a similar job at Oxford poly (now Oxford Brookes). Had an interview on the Thursday, started on the Monday.

Class thought she was the secretary coming to cancel. But once she started teaching she was transformed.

Decided: “If I can do that, I can do anything”.

Got a job in Southampton, teaching math at a higher education college.

Hated CS at university. But thought a mathematician must know, so taught herself BASIC computing over the summer.

Dijkstra – “It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students that have had a prior exposure to BASIC: as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration.”

Got excited about it, someone showed her how to put pictures on.

The world opened up. Applied for a job as a lecturer in CS. Did a part-time masters in CS. This kicked off the rest of her career, although still thinks that one day she might go back to math.

Got interested in multimedia – video on the computer. It seemed like science fiction.

1987 was the first hypertext conference. Was inspired by vision of the future. Not just text, but also visual and audio.

Build Microcosm for the Mountbatten archive . This was multimedia in 1990. Didn’t write a line of code, but had a team of people.

Went on sabbatical to the university of Michigan. This was a turning point in her career.

Grumpy professor told her “If you carry on doing multimedia, no future at Southampton or in CS”. This was because her papers weren’t in CS journals, but luckily others supported her.

Lesson: Have the courage of your convictions.

Ended up higher in the hierarchy than that guy!

If you wanted to get ahead, you needed to start your own journal or conference.

Started thinking about the lack of women in 1987. 3 years of students, no women at all. Had a conference in Lancaster, talked about what had happened to the women.

Feels like she has been doing this forever, but hasn’t gone very far.

Abandoned Women In Computing mailing list because men took it over.

It’s not just a woman’s issue but sometimes it needs to be women only, so we can talk about what we want to talk about.

Declining Female Enrolment in CS from the BSC Scorecard
Declining Female Enrolment in CS from the BSC Scorecard

Personal computers in the mid-80s, programming in basic, war games. They were sold as toys for boys.

“just imagine having a pencil in the class room one day a week”.

Marketing targeted at men and sons, haven’t recovered from it.

1991 was the first ACM conference on Hypertext. She was demoing Microcosm. Tim Berners Lee was demoing the World Wide Web. People were drinking tequila.

1994: started Microcosm, became Southampton’s first female professor of engineering. Stressful, no other women. Still feel vulnerable

Career followed the web. Web is built on giving it away for free. Imagine if Tim Berners Lee has been a Bill Gates. Instead he thought either everyone would use it, or nobody will.

Had to build a web before you could search it. Have to build a semantic web before you can know what to do with it.

Slow, called it the “World wide wait”, of course the bubble burst. You couldn’t just put shopping online, payments weren’t secure. Wasn’t ready. Now look what’s happening to shopping.

Got a fellowship in ’95, used the year to write a fellowship proposal. Got it, for 6 years.

1996: EPSRC council, which was a spring board for influence. People started to notice, couldn’t duck the issue.

1996: Chair of the BCS Publications. If you want to do something, have to organise it. Tried being a manager, as head of the BCS.

Lesson: If you want influence and leadership roles, have to get out and do it.

Chose not to have kids. It’s hard if you have them.

2004: New York. Tim Berners Lee said “about this semantic web thing… it’s not taking off”. Thinking about how to get it out of the rut. Wrote paper about the semantic web.

Reason why people don’t understand, it’s not just about technology. Have to think about issues of human behaviour, so launched the Web Science Research Initiative.

Non-tech people think Web Science is technical. Tech people think it is not engineering.

Thinking about making a difference globally. Spent more time with the ACM. Giving women a voice at the top table. Wasn’t the first female president of the ACM, but was the first outside of North America.

Getting ACM-W a seat on the council. Important to have a voice at the top table.

ACM India, Europe, China, A is not America. But people think it is. >50% is outside of the US, 28% of which is in Europe. Trying to give more value for members in Europe, tried to raise profile in India and China, where there are lots of grads and money going into research and training.

Had lunch with the Queen.

Never expected to get a FRS (Fellow of the Royal Society). Not many Computer Scientists. Got to sign the book that Newton signed. Others go before, haul others up.

Can do management, but not what she wants to spend life doing, so stepping down to focus on what she wants.

Very different culturally, 50% of students are women in India and the Middle East. It’s cultural, and not inherent. There are other issues after having a family, but these women love programming.

Networks are important. They help us find out voice.

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