So I first learnt about Ada Lovelace day on del.icio.us and signed the pledge, and then spent a long time thinking about who I should write about, Ada Lovelace seems a little like the safe option. Being a hardware architect in a former life and still working on embedded platforms, Lynn Conway seem to be the perfect choice to for me to write about.
I’m guessing many people will not have heard of her, but nearly everyone will have benefited from her work. She worked on out of order execution at IBM, is used in most CPU today. Not to get too technical but exploiting the parallelism of the units inside a CPU, you can get a much greater throughput, so programs run faster and you do more ‘stuff’ done.
Another large contribution was her work in VLSI design, taking the technology from a handful of companies and giving smaller companies and universities access to the toolbox and a structured method to use them, giving much cheaper and faster prototype, leading to an explosion of companies producing ASICs which powers many consumer electronics products.
Part of reason for picking Lynn was that people who work in the more ‘hardcore’ side of technology, tend be less visible than people working in the web,games or the more user facing part of technology. Not to take anything away from people who work in those areas (I’ve also worked on web projects and games in the past), partly I guess this is because these deeply technical subjects are harder to explain, less visual and well less interesting to most people (or perhaps were telling the stories wrong). So all of this is to say don’t feel limited to ‘acceptable’ career options, if your interested in an area go for it.