Two champions for women in technology
Two champions for women in technology
Drawing inspiration and the name of their organization from Ada Lovelace, the 19th century English mathematician, Valerie Aurora and Mary Gardiner have a very specific mission: equity for women. Lovelace is best known for proposing algorithms for use on the mechanical computer Charles Babbage aimed to construct and, thus, is often considered the world's first programmer. Like her, both Aurora and Gardiner are deeply involved in technology.

Aurora, an open source computer programmer, got hooked on technology, as a self-described “gawky 17-year-old,” when she attended DefCon back in 1995. Although inspired by the brilliant work and creative dispositions she encountered there, she also was wary of ever returning because of the offensive behavior she encountered from the predominantly male attendees. “Every time I read about something cool happening at DefCon, I wanted to jump on the next flight to Las Vegas,” she once wrote. “But I didn't, because of my own bad experiences there.”

Valerie Aurora 

Age: 34

Occupation: executive director at the Ada Initiative

College: New Mexico Tech 

Accomplishments: With Mary Gardiner, developed and helped implement an anti-harassment policy for technical conferences to increase participation by women. She organized and ran the most recent AdaCamp, the only conference dedicated to women in open technology and culture

Like many other women, Aurora believed the industry was ignoring the behavioral problems that, she says, characterized many technically focused events. But for the most part, she simply remained silent as she tried to pursue her career. But over time it became clear that ignoring the problem didn't help. She heard from others about similar issues and, more to the point, the hostile environment was making it difficult for women to participate meaningfully in key industry events in security, open source and other areas of technology.

Meanwhile, in Australia, Mary Gardiner, also actively working in open source, was encountering an identical situation in the technical community there. Eventually, the two became acquainted and started a decade-long collaboration on a variety of “women in open source” advocacy projects.

Gardiner says the open source and security worlds are similar in that women in both are an extreme minority. She says some of the problems that have marginalized women are simply a result of ignorance. In other cases, though, she says “some men are attracted to the idea of a male-only experience, which results in actively exclusionary behavior.”

Aurora and Gardiner launched the Ada Initiative in February 2011 with the support of small contributions, mostly from women, across the tech industry, as well as with help from a few grant-making organizations.