Celebrating International Women's Day 2018

In School of Computing Science Board meeting, the Acting Equality and Diversity Officer Dr Sarah Taylor suggested that everyone put a picture of a famous female computer scientist on their door, with a bit of writings on what she did.

I decided to put a photo of Rear Admiral Grace Hopper and Hedy Lamarr on the wall.

I feel having Admiral Grace Hopper on my office wall is quite motivating - a senior military officer / computer scientist is watching you to make sure you don't procrastinate.

Admiral Hopper was really good at explaining things. In order to help her lecture audiences to understand how long a nanosecond is, she used to hand out 30 cm long wires - because the light travels 30 cm in one nanosecond. She reminds me that it is important to explain difficult concept in an easy-to-understand way.

She also did a lot of early work on programming languages. During her time, there were different kinds of computers, and different kind of computers spoke different kind of language. It was difficult to program them. She believed that computer programming should be easy - everyone who can speak English should be able to do it. So she came up with this idea of “high-level” programming languages. High-level programming languages get translated to the language that different computers speak.

Wikipedia page says Hedy Lamarr loved tinkering, and she “improved traffic stoplight and a tablet that would dissolve in water to create a carbonated drink”, and aviation tycoon Howard Hughes would “put his team of science engineers at her disposal, saying they would do or make anything she asked for.” I kind of feel I share the same life philosophy as her - I think that the fun thing about learning knowledge is that you can understand the things around you and tinker with them.

Her invention is a fairly important concept in telecommunication. Most of the modern communication standards incorporate her concept, including Wifi. My office also occasionally suffer from poor Wifi connection, so hopefully her portrait would bless my office's Wifi router.

Finally Hedy Lamarr wasn't trained to be an engineer, but she still dabbled in invention. I think she shows that science and engineering is for everyone, and it can be fun.

I feel Grace Hopper represents the serious and useful nature of computer science, Hedy Lamarr represents the fun side of knowledge.

When I was in York, at one point some left-wing (possibly art) students say that we should reduce the influence of the defence industry in research, and York's CS department had a lot of defence funding. I think Grace Hopper is a good example why military can be a force for good.

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