24 March 2010

Ada Lovelace Day 2010: Dianne Martin & Sue McKnight

I'm going to write about two people today. I couldn't pick.

Dianne Martin

Dianne Martin was one of my professors at The George Washington University. No, she's not teaching any of my classes this semester or going forward! I decided to write about her because she has done some pretty cool stuff.

She taught the Team Project Development & Professional Ethics class I took two years ago. It was a class where we were learning how to work in a team for a client (another department of the school) and be ethical about our decisions regarding the project. Lots of those "is it wrong to…" questions regarding things like testing thoroughly, grey hat hacking, deadlines, copyright and licenses (yes, including open source licenses), etc. When explaining reliability issues, she told us about her work writing the FORTRAN code that potentially made the Apollo space ships, well, work. I say "potentially" because she explained to us that they had two separate teams write code meant to do the same thing and rigorously tested. If the testing missed a bug and something bad happened, the other team's code could be loaded up on the fly (failover). Which team's code went into production was not released.

Fast forward a bit, and she ran my school's Cyber Security Policy & Research Institute for a few years. Appropriate, since aside from the security and policy issues she covered in that class, she also taught the Information Policy class I took last year.

In 2005, she became a Dean at Zayed University, which it appears was a school for women at the time, though they've since built a new campus where men are allowed. She wrote Removing the veil: personal reflections on educating women in Dubai about her experiences there (ACM Digital Library access required).

In 2007, she returned to DC, and that's when I met her. She is now the Associate Vice President for Graduate Affairs in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. She was very helpful when there was a problem with another student who made frequent comments about women's abilities as regards computer science.

She's also notable for having been one of the authors of the ACM Code of Ethics and for quite a lot of research into computer science education and computer-aided education. One of the interesting things I recall reading about her teaching experience was that she used to ask students to draw what they think of when they hear "computer scientist." The results was a lot of drawings of guys, even coming from girls and young women. She also received the Ada Lovelace Award from the Association for Women in Computing in 2005.

Sue McKnight

Sue is one of my dad's closest friends. She's also the first female programmer I ever knew. I can't give some long list of academic things like I can with the professor above, but I remember visiting Sue each summer since I was really small. She's always been proof that geeks can be cool and have lots of fun.

She and her husband Linus have been very encouraging of my open source activities and general geekiness. I remember a couple years ago, she expressed surprise at my being so technical when my parents are both…um, well they can send email and type things into word processors and spreadsheets… Silly, Sue, I had you!

I remember her saying she was "Code Mom" to the guys she worked with, before she moved into management. She'd have to convince her coworkers that usability mattered, and that even if it'd mean an algorithm was O(10n) instead of O(n), if it was better for the user, that small performance hit was worth it.

For some reason, some Planets bumped last year's posts to the top when I edited their tags, even though they haven't changed spots in the RSS feed. Weird.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

*and that even if it'd mean an algorithm was O(10n) instead of O(n), if it was better for the user, that small performance hit was worth it.

I really like that point. I think Ubuntu is coming up big in the direction of usability with Lucid Lynx. I'm really looking forward to it.