Celebrating women in technology

December 9th, 2016

The Nextech team is often asked is why Computer Science Education Week takes place in December, particularly given the timing. Educators are competing with end-of-term priorities. State legislators are not in session. And the weather? We never know what conditions we will wake up to. Despite the potential hurdles, an EXCELLENT reason why CSEd Week takes place in December exists: To recognize the birthday of computing pioneer Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (December 9, 1906).

Besides being a United States Navy officer, Hopper became one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, the first person to create a compiler for a computer programming language, and she earned the title of “Mother of Cobol,” one of the first high-level programming languages.

It’s likely that many people have not heard of Grace Hopper or fully appreciate her impact on technology; however, anyone connected to today’s tech workforce would agree far too few females work in traditional computer science or computer related fields. Statistics back this observation. From 1990 to 2013, women in computing fell from 35 to 26 percent.

In honor of Hopper’s birthday today, Nextech would like to introduce you to a few women who have pioneered their own journey as technologists: Linda Whitehill Norkin (73), retiree; Lindsay Siovaila (29), Lead Solutions Developer at Salesforce; and Becky Phillips (41), co-founder of /Halvsies. A 1965 graduate of Northwestern, Linda spent her career growing from programmer trainee to computer programmer to programmer analyst and eventually systems analysts. Her career spanned many businesses, including American Oil Company. As part of the Solutions Engineering team, Lindsay uses a wide range of skill sets (UI/UX design, full-stack web development and strategy) to deliver customized applications to help our sales team sell our product to customers. A 1997 graduate of Indiana State, Becky’s software platform connects donors with committed fundraisers for personal, professional and not-for-profit organizations.

Why did you pursue a career in technology?
Linda: I started college thinking I would major in Math. My first course was Calculus; I didn’t like it or do well grade-wise. Discouraged about my initial college plan, I went home that first summer not knowing what I was going to do. My father had an idea for me: His company had just gotten their first computers, and he wanted me to take some of the IBM training classes offered to his employees. I really enjoyed learning how to write computer programs, and an IBM manager said I had the necessary puzzle-solving aptitude to do well as a programmer. Since very few colleges offered computer courses in those days (1962), he said to major in anything that interested me and get my undergraduate degree. Then, any company I decided to work for would provide the necessary training.
Lindsay: Since I can remember, I’ve been creating and making things. In high school, we had a graphic design program, which was rare at the time, and I spent most of my free time in the lab, working through design tutorials and figuring out how to bring my ideas to life on a computer.
Becky: In college I minored in computer science / data management, understanding that knowing my way around the technical world would give me a leg up on being an accountant, my original career goal. CS classes were fun, and I quickly realized the best part of computer science is you are never bored. There is always something new to learn and so many people to learn from!

What do you love about working in technology?
Linda: It’s challenging and rewarding. I loved solving problems and loved my job as a “systems analyst.”
Lindsay: We not only dream of ideas to help solve important problems; we also implement those ideas, build them, and see someone benefit from the work we put into bringing something to life.
Becky: The possibilities! Solving problems, changing experiences, learning never stops!

What advice would you give to young girls?
Linda: Go for it!! A young person growing up in today’s world of rapidly expanding technology can do anything they make up their mind to do.
Lindsay: Some of your best work will come out of times when you get stuck and think you’ll never figure it out. During those moments, don’t give up! They are great opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them. You’ll be a better developer because of it.
Becky: Get involved! You have value to add from your day-to-day experience since technology is everywhere. Innovation happens everywhere all the time.

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