January 17 – Happy Birthday, Anita Borg

Posted on January 17, 2016

I remember helping my dad with something at his office. He showed me the “Star Trek” game on his minicomputer. This was way back in the early 1970s, and minicomputers were the size of a small desk. Smaller than the mainframe systems everyone was used to at the time – but REALLY large by today's standards!

Star Trek” on my dad's minicomputer didn't look anything like this:

Instead, it was a text game – again, this was a long time ago, and basically, computer graphics were sketchy B&W pictures created out of letters and backslashes, asterisks and numbers. Like this:

I was totally smitten by that game. Playing it, it seemed I could feel my brain stretching and learning. I became fascinated by the possibility of computers helping us think better and become smarter.

Flash forward a few years, and I became the proud owner of the first microcomputer on the block. Not just that - I was the first of anyone at my job, of any of my friends, of anyone I knew, even, to own a computer...an Apple II.

I learned BASIC programming language, I began to write and talk about how computers can help us in education and in our everyday lives, I began to teach others about programming, and I even computerized my workplace.

I was an early adopter of home computers, and I was really the only woman I knew interested in computers. But at the same time that I was learning about computers and bemoaning the fact that I was the only woman doing so, across the country and the world, Anita Borg was already in her second decade of working with computers and programming! She taught herself how to program (like me) but also earned a Ph.D. in computer science (I certainly did not!). She got her first programming job in 1969.

Anita Borg did more than just bemoan the fact that few women were working with computers – she did something about it!

In 1987, she started the online community Systers, a forum for women in computing, and in 1994 she helped create the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, a conference for technical women. A few years after that, Borg founded the Institute for Women and Technology. This organization runs a variety of programs to encourage women in technical fields.

Borg won a variety of awards for her work on behalf of women. Now the organization she founded is named in her honor, and several other programs and awards honors her, including the Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship and the UNSW School of Computer Science and Engineering's Anita Borg Prize.

Also on this date:

Benjamin Franklin's birthday

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