So, funny story in honor of Ada Lovelace day.

My first job was pretty amazing.  I worked with a bunch of really smart people doing really smart things.  Space things.  And optics things.  Now my role on this team was fairly meager – I basically helped the documentation team try and capture all of the smart things the other smarter people were doing – but it was still amazing to be around that stuff.  Space telescopes, satellites, cell phones, automotive components, this team helped design all sorts of useful and interesting crap.

Anyway, one woman on the engineering team – we shall call her Mary although that’s not her name – had a very sharp sense of humor and keen hearing, both of which come into play in this tale.  One evening we were out celebrating …. something – a release perhaps?  maybe a project wrap-up?  There was drinking and nogoodnicking.  One of my outside-of-work friends from my previous stint in grad school was there – let’s call him Joe.  This evening Joe happened to be hitting on Mary.  Hard.  I watched from my bar stool several meters away while he strutted about her like a peacock with a spare ego.  Mary was unimpressed and Joe eventually took the hint.

So Joe politely adjourns from Mary and joins me at the bar.  I asked him, “So, what do you think of Mary?  She’s kind of awesome, right?”

Joe sighed and said, “Yeah, she’s cute.  But she’s no rocket scientist.”

I started laughing.  That loud obnoxious laugh you may know.  Joe wanted to know why.  So I turned around and shouted, “Hey Mary, what is it you do for a living?”

She finished her beer, slammed the stein on the table, stood up to look Joe square in the eye and as she was leaving, she said:

I’m a fucking rocket scientist.

And the best part?  It was true.  100% honest.  She did rockets for a living.  A literal rocket scientist that sends things into space.  Ego Joe never stood a chance.


So originally this post was a bit different.  It wasn’t a story, it was a rant.  I didn’t like the rant so I wanted to turn it into something positive. 

Here’s the thing – Ada Lovelace is important, and I’ve told my girls about her because I want them to know that women have had a profound impact on society.  Having that history is vital for them I think – I do believe the technical contributions from women are under-celebrated and often deliberately downplayed.  So I want them to know about Ada and what she contributed, and that we can literally thank her for my career and our family’s happiness.

But I know that won’t do anything real for them.  I mean, why should I expect stories of Ada to have a significant impact on my girls, when similar stories about C.S. Babbage had fairly milquetoast effects on me when I was their age.  Interesting, perhaps necessary, but it won’t light their fuse.

Which is why I spend so much time finding Marys.  Living people my girls can see doing real and amazing things, people they can talk to about wonders and interests.  Sure I want them to know that “once upon a time there was Ada,” but I think knowing that there is Mary right here, right now, doing really amazing stuff, is far more important to their mindset.

My biggest fear for my daughters is that they will come to believe that they can’t do something because of their gender or sex.  My biggest tool to counteract that fear, is to show them someone who can – someone like Mary.