Celebrating women programmers – past, present and future

Ada Lovelace Day – 13 October 2015

Ada Lovelace Day is about celebrating women engineers, scientists, technologists or mathematicians role models who inspire other girls and women. 

This year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ada Lovelace who is widely held to have been the first computer programmer. Close friends with inventor Charles Babbage, Lovelace was intrigued by his Analytical Engine and in 1842 at the age of 27 she wrote several early ‘computer programmes’. 

Despite the first computer programmer being a woman and female coders playing a big part in wartime and the post-war era, gender imbalance poses a major challenge in today’s IT industry, where women make up just 13 per cent of tech specialists in the workforce.        

So, on a day dedicated to promoting women in science, engineering and technology, meet Dr Claire Quigley and find out what inspired her career in computing. 

Claire studied Computing Science at Glasgow University. She is a Project Officer for CoderDojo Scotland at the Glasgow Science Centre, where she supports the CoderDojo network of computer coding clubs for young people across Scotland. In partnership with the College, Claire helped to establish Coderdojo Ayrshire, one of the most active coding clubs for young people in Scotland.

Dr Claire Quigley

Her experience includes working at Glasgow and Cambridge Universities, being part of a team which developed and ran an interactive coding experience at CBBC Live, and being one of the authors of a ‘Help Your Kids with Computer Coding’, a book introducing children to programming.

What inspired you to get involved in computing and make a career from it?

I wasn’t interested in computing at all as a teenager – I thought it was all to do with games, which I also had no interest in. It wasn’t until my second year studying physics at Glasgow University that I took an extra course aimed at allowing you to wire up your experiments to a computer and program it to do the measurements. This appealed to me as, while I liked and was good at the theoretical side of the course, I didn’t enjoy the labs and struggled to get my measurements accurate enough.  

After reading a bit of the text book and writing a few programs I realised that programming wasn’t necessarily all about games. In fact it seemed more like a “live action” version of the bits of maths that I enjoyed: taking a problem and turning it round in your head until you saw how all the pieces fitted together. Then writing a program to make the computer do things to produce the answer to the problem. I soon realised I enjoyed programming much more than physics and switched courses to Computing Science.

As a woman in the IT industry, what challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

The main challenge I’ve faced is that people occasionally assume that I’m not a programmer because I’m a woman. However, apart from that, I’ve found programmers to be friendly people to work with from all different backgrounds. Most of them are just interested in getting things to work, and finding new ways of doing that. Gender is not usually an issue at all.

Describe your job on a day to day basis. What are the highlights?

My job varies quite a lot from day to day, which is one of the things I enjoy about it. Tasks vary from emailing people to organising workshops or Dojos, meeting people to discuss the possibility of them setting up a Dojo or working with us on a project, writing code and worksheets that we’ll use at workshops, or actually running a workshop.   

Highlights are probably the days when I get to actually run a workshop I’ve been planning and see people engage with it. I also enjoy working on ideas for projects that combine different areas of science with programming with my colleagues in the science centre or arts with people from other projects in the city. 

What would you say to a girl or woman who was considering a career in IT?

Go for it – and keep in mind that there are more and more careers that use programming. From medicine, to wearable technology, science, games and art, programming is a tool to help you make things happen in the area you’re interested in.  

Inspiring the next genetation of programmers

Ayrshire College holds Coderdojo clubs throughout the year in venues across Ayrshire. Two are now open for booking –

  • Tuesday 20 October at the College’s Kilwinning Campus from 6-8pm  
  • Thursday 26 November at Dumfries House in Cumnock from 6-8pm

If you know a young person aged 7 to 17 who is interested in learning to code, book online at http://coderdojoscotland.com/events.



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