A couple of weeks ago, I paid a visit to Cobenzl, a small mountain in the northwest of Vienna. If you ever go there, you’ll be passing through Döbling and Grinzing, two former suburbs of Vienna which are now part of the city. In part they still look very much like the winegrowing villages they used to be, and I thougth I’d share some pictures with you 🙂
This, err, last week’s role model was pointed out to me – and about 180 other students – by our teacher in Theoretical Informatics and Logic (I might even write about her at some point): Sheila Greibach, researcher in formal languages, compiler theory and computer science.
In the context of the TIL lecture, Sheila Greibach was mentioned for establishing the normal form (aka Greibach normal form) for context-free grammars. She also works on properties of pushdown automata, and decidability problems.
After earning her A.B. and A.M. degrees at Radcliffe University in 1960 and 1962, she achieved her PhD at Harvard University in 1963. The title of her PhD thesis is “Inverses of Phrase Structure Generators”.
She continued to work at Harvard at the Division of Engineering and Applied Physics, until she moved to the UCLA, where she has been professor since 1970.
Other than the Greibach normal form, she is also known for Greibach’s theorem, stating that certain properties of formal language classes are undecidable.
More information on Sheila Greibach can be found at wikipedia.
This week’s role model was brought to my attention by Fachschaft Informatik, a group of students representing the Comuputer Sciences students at my university, helping with problems concerning curricula, courses, and so on. One of the rooms provided and used by FSInf is the Anita Borg room.
Anita Borg was a self-taught programmer, focusing on operating systems and memory systems. Upon realizing at a symposium in 1987 that there were incredibly few women in computing, she became an advocate for technical women. She founded a mailing list called Systers, which brought together women in technology. In 1994, together with Telle Whitney, Borg founded the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, a conference by and for women in computer sciences. In 1997, Borg founded the Institute for Women in Technology, aiming to increase the representation of women in technical fields and to enable the creation of more technology by women. Anita Borg’s personal goal was to achieve a 50% representation for women in computing by 2020.
While reading up on her life, the second most interesting fact for me was that the mailing list she oversaw, while primarily focusing on communication of experts on technical things, tackled non-technical issues from time to time. For example, when in 1992 a Barbie doll hit the market that said “math class is tough”, the protest that started with the Systers list played a role in getting that phrase removed from Barbie’s microchip. This very much reminded me of a Simpsons episode, Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy. The most interesting fact was that Anita Borg obviously was a very active, motivated fighter for women in technology. This is a trait I very much like in people – talking about things might be interesting, but to actually change the state of something, things must get done.
After Anita Borg died of cancer in 2003, the Institute for Women in Technology was renamed to the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology by Telle Whitney, who took over as CEO and President in 2002. Lots of awards and scholarships are named in her honor, and while still alive, Anita Borg received Awards by the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) and the Association for Women in Computing as well as an Honorary Doctor of Science and Technology degree by Carnegie Mellon University.
For more information, go read up at wikipedia (where I also found her picture).
Without even being awarded with a degree after completing her studies at Cambridge University (because women only receive degrees from Cambridge since 1948!), Cecilia Payne‘s dissertation was “undoubtedly the most brilliant Ph.D. thesis ever written in astronomy.” according to astronomer Otto Struve.
After her father died when she was four years old, her mother had to raise Cecilia and her 2 siblings on her own, thus deciding not to spend money on Cecilia’s college education, but on her brother’s (who became an archeologist). In 1919, Payne won a scholarship to Cambridge University, where she started to study botany and later on also physics and chemistry. Her London school did not teach either physics or chemistry, but botany, so this is where she discovered her first field of interest.
Realizing that she would not be able to work in research, but only as a teacher, in the UK, she decided to move to the US on a grant encouraging women to work at Harvard Observatory. She was the 2nd woman to work there, following Adelaide Ames.
In her work, Payne accurately related the spectral classes of stars to their actual temperatures. Her thesis established that hydrogen was the overwhelming constituent of the stars, and thus the most abundant element in the Universe.
Officially not having an official position, Payne remained scientifically active as a technical assistant to Harlow Shapley (the Director of the Harvard Observatory) from 1927 to 1938. When she was at one point considering to leave Harvard because of her low status and poor salary, Shapley made efforts to improve her position. In 1938 she was given the title of “Astronomer”, which she later asked to have changed to Phillips Astronomer. Until 1945, none of the courses she taught at Harvard were recorded in the catalogue.
she was the first woman to be promoted to full professor from within the faculty at Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (1956). With her appointment to the Chair of the Department of Astronomy, she also became the first woman to be head of a department at Harvard.
For this week’s Role Model, my thanks go to the women’s department at TU Wien’s Student’s Union. Part of their campaing for yesterday’s International Women’s Day was to rename some of the most used lecture rooms at TU, giving them names of female scientists. This is how I found today’s Role Model: Rózsa Péter.
Rósza Péter attended Pázmány Péter University (the oldest and largest university in Hungary, later renamed Eötvös Loránd University) starting in 1922. She at first wanted to study chemistry, but soon discovered that her true passion lay with Mathematics. Graduating in 1927, she started to work as a tutor and teacher at high schools, but also started her graduate studies.
Begin told about Gödel’s work on incompleteness, she started to work on her own proofs in the field, focusing on the recursive functions used by Gödel. She published several papers, proposing to treat recursive functions as a seperated sub-field of mathematics, making her one of the founders of this field of mathematical research. In 1935, she received her PhD (summa cum laude). As of 1937, she was a contributing editor at the Journal of Logic.
When the Fascists took over in Hungary in 1939, Rósza Péter lost her permission to teach, due to her jewish roots. Still researching and writing during the war times, she published “Playing with Infinity” in 1943, where she discussed number theory and logic for lays.
In 1951 she published a monograph, Recursive Functions, and in 1955, she became a professor at Eötvös Loránd University (her renamed alma mater), until her retirement in 1975. In 1976, she published Recursive Functions in Computer Theory. This book was the 2nd Hungarian book on mathematics to be published also in the Soviet Union, as the matter was considered essential to the theory of computers.
Mary Lou Jepsen is the co-founder of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) and an expert in the field of displays. Her work has had worldwide influence on head-mounted displays, HDTV and projector products. She created some of the largest ambient displays ever, and received a Master of Science degree in Holography at MIT Media Lab, where she was also part of the faculty for some years.
At OLPC, Jepsen developed the sunlight-readable display technology and co-invented the ultra-low power management system for the laptop. She also transformed these inventions into high volume mass production. The XO laptop is the lowest-power laptop ever made, and the most environmentally friendly laptop ever made and can sustain 5 foot drops.
In 2008, after working at OLPC for 3 years, Jepsen started a for-profit company, Pixel Qi, to commercialize some of the technologies she developed at OLPC. In 2013, she joined Google[x] as their “Head of the Display Division”.
Also I promise that the next article will be based on a personal interview. Stay tuned!
As the first woman to ever receive a Turing Award for her work, Frances Elizabeth Allen is for sure a woman to be seen as a role model. She received the so called “nobel prize of computing” for
[…] pioneering contributions to the theory and practice of optimizing compiler techniques that laid the foundation for modern optimizing compilers and automatic parallel execution.
(Association For Computing Machinery (ACM), Citation for the A.M. Turing Award 2006)
After earning B.Sc. and M.Sc degrees in Mathematics, she started to teach at a school in Peru, New York (yep, there’s a city named like a country). She joined IBM in 1957, planning on paying off her school loans with that job – but she stayed with IBM for the rest of her career.
Let’s hear some more about her from the ACM:
[…] she introduced many abstractions, algorithms, and implementations that laid the groundwork for automatic program optimization technology, […] introduced the use of graph-theoretic structures to […] efficiently derive relationships and identify opportunities for optimization. […] Her 1976 paper with Cocke describes one of the two main analysis strategies used in optimizing compilers today.
(Association For Computing Machinery (ACM), Citation for the A.M. Turing Award 2006)
And that’s still not all of it. In 1989, Fran Allen was the first woman to become an IBM Fellow. Every year, the current CEO of IBM appoints 4 to 9 researchers at IBM an “IBM Fellow”, which is the highest honor a scientiest, engineer or programmer at IBM can receive. The Fellow Programme was created in 1962, in order to promote creativity among the company’s most exceptional technical professionals, only choosing people who will also be making important contributions in future.
Upon retiring in 2002, Fran Allen received the Ada Lovelace Award of the Association for Women in Computing. After also being awarded the Turing Award by the ACM (see citations above) in 2007 (for 2006), she was awarded an honorary doctor in science degree at SUNY University, Albany. In 2009, she received an honorary doctor of science degree at McGill University for her work.
For more information on Fran Allen, here’s her wikipedia entry, which was where I found most of my information for this short portrait. Sorry if some sentences sound very alike, but rephrasing is a bit hard sometimes 😉
Also, if you want to hear Fran Allen speak about her work herself, you can find her Turing Lecture Video here.
Working with the Student’s Union sensitised me to the problems women face in Technology. One of them is that while there are no biological reasons for it, there are way less women working in Technology than men. There’s got to be a reason for that, right?
Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, at one point had less than 10% females majoring in computer sciences. As of 2006, an initiave was started to find out why, and how this could be changed. techcrunch.com published a video on how HMC changed their gender ratio to nearly 50:50. If you’re more into reading, there’s also an article on the changes on npr.com.
One important story told be all the young women the University approached asking for things that made them reconsider their choice of study is this: “People told me, and still tell me, that I shouldn’t try this. There are no women working in this field.” – Details may vary, it may have been questions, it may have been implications, but all in all, people tell girls, young women and also adult women that what they are trying to do is too hard for them, because no woman, or only very few women before did it.
So what I’ll be trying to do is the following: I’ll try to find female role models of all kinds of technology and science, and post something about them. One role model per week should be doable, and I’ll keep it up as long as possible, but at least until end of April 2014.
Submissions are very welcome, just post a name in the comments section below, or contact me on whichever channel that you found this post on. I’ll start writing the first post right away, posting it tomorrow: Sunday is role model day!
It started out as a joke. A friend and I attended a lecture together, a lecture on Social Informatics, which was pretty … well, not up-to-date considering the materials and examples that were used.
So one evening we decided we’d hijack part of the lecture that would take place the next day. The lecture room would be open for us from 11 am, with the professor usually arriving at 11.20 am – so why not use those 20 minutes, during which students would already be there, or at least be arriving, to talk about something more up to date than airplane crashes from the late 1990ies?
Erste Bank is the oldest still existing commercial bank in Austria (wikipedia article, not available in English). Obviously, the marketing’s gender role models are just as old as their bank:
So in Erste Bank marketing’s eyes, women are solid, family friendly, uncomplicated, informed, calm, transparent, consistent, stable, professionell, simple, accessible, flexible and modern.
And men? They are active, self-determined, modern, fast, professionell, dynamic, flexible, unattached, target oriented, informed, simple and transparent.
Those are serious gender stereotypes that should not be used by one of the biggest commercial banks in Austria. I hope they reconsider their marketing strategies.
P.S. Yes, I did take a closer look at that 2nd picture. Those extremely old-fashioned stereotypes seem not to be about how the person on the poster is, but what they want their investment fonds to be like. Still, those are stupid stereo types. I’m sure there are women who do like to experiment with new ways of investing their money in order to get a nice interest rate, just like I’m also sure there’s a lot of men who want to make sure their money is secure and will be available once they need it.