A Day of Blogging Brings Attention to Female Techies

March 24, 2010

A Day of Blogging Brings Attention to Female Techies

VALDOSTA -- She may not be a household name, but for today -- March 24 -- thousands of people have vowed to participate in an international day of blogging to bring attention to the achievements of Ada Bryon Lovelace, one of the world’s first computer programmers.

Born in 1815 -- the daughter of the English poet Lord Byron -- Lovelace went against traditional Victorian gender roles and studied mathematics, a subject few women at the time attempted. At 18 she met Charles Babbage -- considered the “father of the computer” and credited with originating the concept of a programmable computer -- who became her mentor and helped to further her mathematical studies.

Many years later, Lovelace translated an article describing the design of Babbage’s Analytical Engine -- a mechanical general-purpose computer -- though the engine was never produced, her notes proved to be the first detailed description of a computer and software.

For the majority of Americans today, computers are as commonplace in their homes as televisions. The field of information technology has seen tremendous growth and during the 1990s the job opportunities for men and women escalated with the “dot-com bubble.”

While science and engineering fields continue to see an increase in women, the information technology and computer science areas have experienced a decline. According to the Computer Research Association, only 28 percent of computer science degrees were earned by women in 2002; and the number dropped to 22 percent in 2005.

The Ada Lovelace international day of blogging began last year to bring attention to and celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science. Bloggers are encouraged to visit www.findingada.com and tell the world about the “unsung heroines” of technology.

Focus on Valdosta State's Women in Technology

When Lisa Baldwin, assistant director of Information Technology for Enterprise Application Services, began her career at Valdosta State 24 years ago, there was only one other woman working in the information technology area. She has witnessed the technology landscape at Valdosta State transform from scattered units across campus to a department with 41 employees, eight of which are women.

“I faced many challenges through the years. Being a female interested in computers was not something my peers thought was a cool thing to be interested in during the earlier part of my life,” Baldwin said. “Many people marked me as a geek if I talked to them about computers.”

Unlike teenagers today, Baldwin did not have a computer in her home until her sophomore year of high school. The lack of computer time did not discourage her goal to become a computer programmer.

“I can remember when I was somewhere between the ages of 7 and 9, my dad, who was in the Navy, took the family to view the workings of a Navy ship,” Baldwin recalls. “In one of the areas on the ship, there was a lot of electronic equipment used for many different purposes. One of them was a basic computer, but it was huge. I found it very interesting.”

These childhood memories etched in her mind became the driving force in her plan to gain a degree in computer science.

A family move to South Georgia brought Baldwin’s attention to Valdosta State College. She was enticed by the prospects that the computer science program was in the beginning stages.

“The college had just started a computer science program, and I thought it would be fun to be on the ‘cutting edge’ of the degree,” Baldwin said. “Boy, there were times that being on the ‘edge’ was not where I wanted to be.”

Her college classes consisted of mostly male students, with a few female students in the group.

“This made it challenging in that sometimes when I asked questions I was looked upon as a person who asked too many questions or a person who should have understood what the professor was talking about,” Baldwin said. “I did not let looks or attitudes stop me; I pushed on like a stubborn little bulldog. I believe sometimes my stubbornness to know things has helped me get through all the rough times, but at times it blocks my ability to see things clearly.”

Baldwin has learned from these early life lessons and her tenacious attitude has made her wiser and a better programmer.

Twenty years later, Keisha Lyons began her quest for a computer science degree at Valdosta State University and found a program and career field with more opportunities for women.

“The field of information technology is definitely expanding for women,” said Lyons. “When I was younger, it was extremely rare to find a woman working as a programmer or in the field of information technology period. Now there seems to be more opportunities available for women.”

After graduation, the Valdosta native was hired by Baldwin as a programmer analyst associate. Her primary responsibilities include developing software used in conjunction with the Banner student information system.

Lyons also had strong family encouragement and motivation in selecting computer science as her chosen career field.

“I was always pretty good with computers, so my mother would direct any questions her co-workers had dealing with information technology to me,” Lyons said. “My role model has always been my mother. She indirectly helped me see the potential that I had in information technology as well as how much I enjoyed it.”

Baldwin and Lyons will attest that the information technology career field is expanding for women.

“Over the years I have seen more and more women become interested in computers,” Baldwin said. “Women are seeing it as a profession that yields great satisfaction.”

Baldwin encourages young women to explore the possibilities of a career in information technology.

“Look at what you like to do, if it involves logic, some management skills -- I won’t say I love math but an understanding of math -- and if you like finding out what a computer can do, then information technology is probably a career that would benefit you.”

VSU's Unsung Heroines of Technology

Lisa Baldwin, Assistant Director, Enterprise Applications Services
Kathy Sundin, Computer Training Specialist, Client Support Services
Na Ding, Programmer Analyst, Enterprise Application Services
Amelia Reams, Programmer Analyst, Enterprise Application Services
Keisha Lyons, Programmer Analyst, Enterprise Application Services
Linnie Kinard, Programmer Analyst, Enterprise Application Services
Lorrie Proal, Administrative Assistant, Division of Information Technology
Pepper Croft, System Support Assistant, Enterprise Infrastructure Services