Ada Lovelace Day 2010

My first encounter with the historical figure of Ada Lovelace was through the wonderful alternate history, “The Difference Engine“, by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson. I will admit that my primary fascination was with the world wrought by practical computing arriving a century earlier than it actually did. It also seeded a fascination with the two figures largely responsible, Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace.

In recent years, Sydney Padua’s fun and excruciatingly researched 2D Goggles re-ignited my interest in Babbage and Lovelace. She portrays both members of the pair in her own madcap alternate history with equally loving attention.

I think it was through one of Sydney’s blog or twitter posts that I found out about Ada Lovelace Day, a call to bloggers to help identify and celebrate women in science, technology, engineering and math. I missed the chance to participate last year but took the pledge to contribute a post this year.

I decided I wanted to write about Barbara Simon with whose work I first became acquainted through my interest in e-voting and more specifically the discussion around that topic amongst the membership of the ACM’s US public policy committee, USACM, to which I belong. In particular, Barbara is a tireless champion of accountable e-voting and was recently appointed to the EAC’s Board of Advisors. I got to see her debate this very issue at a USACM gathering about a year and a half ago and realized the depth of experience and insight she brings to this critical issue.

Barbara is a particular good role model for anyone in the field of computer science, especially those looking to better develop a social and political conscience. She has been recognized repeatedly for her achievements by organizations like the EFF, AAAS, and CPSR. She is a past president of the ACM, a professional society to which I belong and through which I have realized some great opportunities. Specific to the ACM, she founded the USACM and served as a past chair.

She does work specifically on issues of diversity in the field, founding the Reentry Program for Women and Minorities in the Computer Science Department at U.C. Berkeley. As her Wikipedia page further explains, “[s]he is also on the Boards of the Coalition to Diversify Computing (CDC) and the Berkeley Foundation for Opportunities in Information Technology (BFOIT), groups that work at increasing participation in computer science of women and underrepresented minorities.” I cannot help but think of the mentors that Ada Lovelace had in her own life, her mother and Mary Somerville, when thinking of this aspect of Barbara’s work.

Barbara is one of the people with whom I serendipitously became acquainted through the podcast. My membership in USACM came about through the prompting of a listener, Emil. More recently, that same listener further prodded me to take a more active, official role in the organization, a change that was greeted by a personal note from Barbara.

Having had the opportunity to learn more about her background, both in her research and activist pursuits, I look forward to my new role in the policy committee she founded and still actively helps guide. I am grateful for the public example her activism and advisory work provides, not just to me, but anyone else interested in the intersection of computing technology and public policy.

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