Ada Lovelace was a highly-educated mathematician and writer in the 1800s, deeply interested in sciences and the human brain. She is widely known as the first computer programmer, having written extensive notes about Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine which describe his machine as a computer with additional notes outlining software. An algorithm in the notes outlines the first of its kind tailored for use on a computer, but since Babbage’s machine was never completed, her program could not be tested.
Lovelace was dedicated to the concept of the Analytical Engine, firmly believing in its potential until she died: “The engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent,” she stated as an example.
Sadly, women in STEM continue to be overlooked, and young female students are rarely encouraged to enter the field. Tessa Colledge is an engineering software programmer at Autodesk, and dedicates time to actively open young women’s eyes about STEM, with regular visits to schools and universities. She is realistic about the venture, acknowledging that it will be a slow process, but continues to expose young women to career paths they may not have considered. As well as encouraging women themselves, Colledge strongly advocates the investment of time and money in programmes for recruiting them.
Colledge said: “It’s important to recognise the contribution women bring to engineering on days like Ada Lovelace Day, but we still have a long way to go when it comes to championing female role models. In my work as a STEM ambassador with Autodesk, I see the value in exposing young women to careers once deemed only suitable for boys.
“Having that personal connection with another female like me, gives young women the self-belief that they can discover a career path in STEM. If you have an interest in engineering, I’d urge you to cherish the skills that you want to apply – whether this is maths or problem solving skills. Don’t give up on finding the career where you can use these skills – it’s out there somewhere. Take risks, put yourself out there and explore the unknown.”
Amy Bunszel, VP of Digital Engineering Products at Autodesk, is also passionate about encouraging women to choose STEM as a career path, even speaking this year at Catalyst Conference 2016, which celebrates women in technology. She adds:
“We know that we need more women at the table, on teams and in the boardroom and we must work at both retaining women already in STEM fields and getting more young women interested in STEM. This is why celebrating days like Ada Lovelace Day and promoting the accomplishments of women in STEM is crucial. My advice for women in STEM is to ask for stretch assignments that align well with their technical and leadership skills and to look around their organizations for women they can bring along with them.
“And for those of us who have already made a successful career in STEM, it is important to offer coaching, mentoring, sponsorship and advice. In return for helping others you’ll also build up a strong network of support and your own sounding board. I leverage my connections to benefit others and enjoy connecting people with opportunities. For me, being a role model to women in STEM extends beyond my formal responsibility at Autodesk to participating on panels across the Bay Area, having coffee meetings to offer advice and encouragement and speaking at career fairs and sponsoring programs like Girls Who Code. Keeping the spotlight on this topic is crucial.”