2010/03/24

Ada Lovelace Day - Valerie Aurora

So, it's Ada Lovelace Day. The day on which geeks everywhere are asked to point out geeky women who've inspired them. I would love for this to be an irrelevance, and for no-one to care that much; unfortunately, the geek community is still male-dominated. I've therefore picked on Valerie Aurora as a geek who's work inspires me, and who happens to be female.

Why do I find Val's work inspiring? In part, it's inspiring because she tackles important problems; not necessarily interesting problems to the general population, but problems that need to be dealt with now. However, there are lots of programmers who do that; what makes this one special?

The difference in Val's work is the clarity of explanation she produces. Most programmers struggle to explain their work to other programmers in the same field; if you read any of the publications linked on her homepage, you'll note that she writes clearly and concisely in English, not just in the usual set of programming languages. Combine that with the high technical standards maintained in the publications and in Val's work on things like the Linux kernel, and I'm impressed.

To top all this off, she's written a very good document aimed at encouraging women to break out of unfair social constraints: HOWTO negotiate your salary. Often, all it takes to break a bad cycle is someone to notice it, and point it out to the people involved; this document is a perfect example of how to make a difference.

It's often said (with good cause) that when members of a previously underrepresented group enter a field, they have to be not just good, but noticeably above average. Val's work fits this stereotype, and sets a standard that I hope to be able to meet one day.