Marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ada Lovelace, the woman widely regarded as the first computer programmer, a competition aims to inspire female students by asking what they would most like to communicate to Lovelace about 21st century technology.
Lovelace is renowned for publishing an historic paper about Charles Babbage’s designs for a 19th century computer, which contained what many view as the first ever computer program. Since that time, many studies have shown that women continue to be hugely under-represented within the computing industry – a situation that many, including this competition, seek to address.
As we head towards the next level of computing capabilities, addressing the various challenges that need to be faced in order to make it a reality will require talented people with a diversity of skills. Currently, however, computing is still shrouded by the image that it’s the ‘preserve of nerdy men’, as Tom Wilkie highlighted in his article on the visibility of women in scientific computing.
Alison Kennedy, executive director of the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre (EPCC) in Scotland, and a member of the board of directors of PRACE, also recently commented that while the climate in HPC is gradually changing in terms of gender equality, there is still a long way to go. Her full article can be read here. Earlier this year, just before the opening of the Prace Scientific and Industrial Conference in Dublin, a ‘Hands on Introduction to HPC’ training session was offered in conjunction with the Women in HPC network. Although the session was open to anyone interested in HPC, regardless of gender, it was one of many initiatives seeking to rectify the industry's gender imbalance. By aiming at young female students, this competition hopes to address this by inspiring women at a critical point in their academic lives to become interested in computing.
‘Of the 17,000 students who achieved a GCSE in computing in 2014, only 15 per cent were girls,’ commented Chris Monk, Learning Co-ordinator at The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC). ‘We see this reflected in the educational group visits to TNMOC and we would very much like to play our part in redressing the balance. The computing industry is missing out – in school, girls regularly outperform the boys in achieving the highest grades.’
Run by The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) and the University of Oxford, in conjunction with cs4fn at Queen Mary University of London, the competition is open to any female up to the age of 18 and will be judged by a panel of experts who will award prizes in three age categories: under 13, 13-15 and 16-18. To enter, female students are invited to demonstrate through any medium, from a hand-written letter to a YouTube video clip, what they think Ada Lovelace would be especially interested in about 21st century technology.
Professor Ursula Martin of the Computer Science Department at the University of Oxford, in announcing the competition, said: ‘Ada Lovelace was a remarkable person, thinking about what computers might be able to do long before computers were actually built. In her writings she explains the basics of programming like memory and loops. She speculates about artificial intelligence, computer creativity and whether computers could compose music long before any of this actually happened. So we encourage our entrants to do the same – think creatively about technology and what you want to tell Ada Lovelace about it.’
The competition closes on 13 October 2015, and entries may be in the form of letters, presentations, dramatised conversations or interactions – anything that focuses on communicating to Ada Lovelace about 21st century technology. Entrants will be split into three categories: under 13, 13-15, and 16-18.
The following formats will be accepted for entries:
- A letter (500 words maximum) – to be scanned, so all entries are electronic;
- An email (500 words maximum);
- A blogpost (500 words maximum);
- A social media text (500 words maximum) (Not available in the under-13s age category);
- A video (3 minutes maximum);
- A graphic (up to A3 in size); and
- Photos or images on any software platform (maximum 25 photos).
Throughout the summer of 2015, The National Museum of Computing on Bletchley Park will be extending its activities to promote computer science as a highly suitable career path for girls. The Women in Computing gallery, sponsored by Google and opened in 2013, will be regularly showing To Dream Tomorrow, the video of Ada Lovelace’s life, sponsored by Extra Technology. Women in Computing workshops and events are also planned.