Ada Lovelace Day: (Sh)ETech 2009

Panels tend to be pretty man-heavy, in my experience.  I’ve spoken on quite a few human rights, tech, media development and journalism panels in the 3 years since I joined WITNESS in New York, and, although these sectors are often driven by the work and ideas of women, and many of the conference organisers are women, those with the mic are more often than not men (including me).

Curating panels isn’t any easier – in the PEN World Voices Festival in 2008 we had three successive female participants drop out of one panel, only to see them replaced by a phalanx of (very able) male speakers (although somehow Mary Robinson kindly agreed to introduce the panel, thereby restoring some kind of natural order), and in 2009, we didn’t have any, as the one woman on the panel, Kathrin Roeggla, was unable to travel to New York.  The 2009 panel itself was fine – wonderful, actually – but there was something in the specific maleness of the bonhomie that left me uncomfortably self-conscious.

Last year, I had the honour and privilege of delivering a keynote speech at the O’Reilly Conference, ETech (thanks to Joi Ito), which, looking back at the programme, seems like another overwhelmingly male-dominated conference agenda (O’Reilly now has a diversity statement, and it will be interesting to see how this impacts on the perceived quality of their conferences).  Despite this, it’s largely the presentations, ideas, conversations with women at the conference that I found most surprising and thought-provoking (honourable mentions for Julian Bleecker, Aaron Koblin, Mike Migurski and a couple of others).  So for Ada Lovelace Day, here are short intros to three women – all of whom were also extremely generous with their time in allowing me to ask even basic questions – doing work of very different kinds selected from (Sh)ETech 2009:

Elizabeth Goodman was my stand-out conversation at ETech – totally fascinating work in California on urban green spaces, informed by a huge range of learning and references, and though I missed her presentation (photo by @moleitau), an extended conversation by the piano more than made up for that.

On reflection, tied for first place was Molly Steenson – I didn’t see Molly’s presentation (there’s a theme emerging here) but her Ignite talk was witty, learned and about one of my favourite things – communication and technology in 19th Century France.

Ashwini Asokan of Intel® Corporation patiently took a chunk of time to explain to me some of the deeper concepts and research behind her presentation about localised uses of technology – really specific work, rooted in reality, and real experiences, and highly recommended.

Others whose work I have followed in more detail in the year that has passed since then include Jennifer Magnolfi of Herman Miller, and Jane McGonigal – but of those whose work I encountered at ETech itself, Elizabeth, Molly and Ashwini’s work continues to resonate for me, and I strongly encourage you to seek their work out.


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