Seven Top Ladies In Tech Over 50
At Chip Chick we like to pay a lot of attention to the up and coming companies in technology, the exciting new startups and the hot new apps on the block. These tend to be the products that get a lot of media buzz and hype, but we think it’s’ also important to pay attention to industry stalwarts and those that have been involved for the long haul. Sure, many of the women will now be holding roles at a senior level, but that’s because they earned it, by working their way up and constantly staying relevant to the industry.
Carol Vorderman, age 52
For many British nationals, Carol Vorderman is the epitome of beauty and brains. She first came to public attention when she joined the TV show Countdown in 1982, remaining with the program for 26 years. The show revolves around getting contestants to solve maths and word problems in a short space of time, and Carol was a natural, with her glossy locks and huge brain, showing people that smart and sexy were a powerful combination. Her power suits spawned a generation of Sudoku loving ladies, and Carol branched out into her own brand of Sudoku books, a Maths Factor website to help teach kids mathematics and slots on various television programs as a TV presenter.
Carol grew up in North Wales and went to Cambridge University to study engineering. She is a member of of Mensa and has a reported IQ of 154. Her first role was that of a junior civil engineer at a Welsh power station, but her rise to public fame came through one of her extracurricular activities- she was a singer in a pop group called Dawn Chorus and the Blue Tits in the eighties. This led to Carol participating on radio shows speaking about music- and a gig reading stories to preschool students on air!
Her brush with Countdown forever changed her life, and this happened almost accidentally! Carol’s mother submitted her daughter’s info to the show, as there had been an advert asking for ‘women with good maths skills to co-host a TV show’. At 21 years old, Carol was suddenly on national TV, and her role involved more than looking pretty, as she had to quickly calculate huge sums live on TV. Carol helped reinvent the genre of female TV presenters, showing that style and brains could go together and making maths popular. When she left the show in 2005 after 26 years, she went on to work on other TV channels, found a maths online teaching centre and author a number of books- everything from Sudoku games to fitness tips.
Carol has always been very vocal about good causes and is a patron of the Cleft Lip Palate Association and the Blue Lamp foundation and tries to do her best to get the charities funding and recognition. She is an inspiration to women everywhere, and we can credit her with the fact that (some) more women are taking maths and science courses in the UK.
Mitchell Baker, age 61, Chairperson of Mozilla Corporation
Mozilla Firefox was the search engine that changed my life. Prior to this, I’d been a hardcore IE girl (OK, there were no other real options) but Firefox gave my browser so much more. Add-ons! Apps! A cheeky looking fox! It changed the way I searched online, and though I’m now partial to Chrome, it remains constant in its continual reinvention and creative outlets.
Mitchell Baker is the current chairperson of the Mozilla foundation and former CEO. Mitchell has a surprising background- her bachelor’s degree was in Asian Studies at Berkeley and she then took the bar exam to qualify as a lawyer.
Her legal work had some influence on where she’d later end up, as she worked as a Corporate and Intellectual Property Associate, providing services to hi-tech companies, and then moved to Sun Microsystems as a counsel in 1993. Everything changed in 1994 when Mitchell went to work at Netscape Communications Corporation in the legal department, protecting intellectual property and product development issues.
It was here that she founded a Technology Group in the legal department and created the initial license for both Netscape and Mozilla. In 1999, Mitchell took on the role of general manager of Mozilla.org but was fired in 2001 due to layoffs in the company. She continued to work for them on a volunteer basis and then went to work at the Open Source Applications Foundation in 2002, splitting her time between Mozilla and OSAF and helping both advance (OSAF worked with Mozilla so she started getting paid for her time again!) she was placed on the OSAF board of directors (where she remains) and went back you work with Mozilla again full time in 2005 (when they got more money, I presume).
Mitchell spearheaded the Mozilla Foundation initiative, a non profit part of Mozilla that creates policies to support open source on the web, and operates key infrastructure and looks after trademarks and intellectual property.
The Netscape browser then shut down (wow, had almost forgotten it) and Mitchell went on to become president of the Mozilla Foundation. Mitchell is still Chairperson of the organization, but no longer CEO due to restructuring of roles in the company,
Her career history is long and varied, and it’s interesting to see that her route into tech is through the legal system, showcasing that there are many different ways to enter a career and that what you are passionate about will always rise to the top and become a driving force in your life.
Nancy Brown, age 59, Vice Admiral
Nancy Brown has made a lot of important decisions in her years. She has liaised with some of the most important people in the world, and she got to where she is today with drive, tenacity and a love of education. Her resume is impressive- a bachelors degree in education, a Masters of Science in Communications System management and then a Master of Arts degree in national security and strategic studies. These led to her becoming a communications specialist which led to her being assigned to the Defense Commercial Communications Office in Illinois.
Her focus has always been on instilling the best possible communication systems and she backs up her vocal speeches with the written word, as her book Joint Net-Centric Operations Campaign Plan is often required reading for trainee officers.
Nancy has moved quite a lot in her career, working overseas and on both the East and West coast. In 1993 she settled for a while as she enrolled in a Senior Course at the Army, and then assumed command in Maine. This led to her being selected for the national Security Council at the White House in 1995, and she remained very close with the folk there for the rest of her career.
Part of her career involved a transfer to Iraq and it’s here that Nancy really got to illustrate her communication skills as she used technology to enable her to monitor the events that were taking place. She led a team of technology experts and technicians who were involved in creating critical infrastructure, acting as a liaison and communication links for the government, Coalition forces and remote posts. It was a dangerous but challenging role and Nancy was involved in every aspect, here’s a brief interview excerpt with her about the role.
‘Our use of commercial technologies (In Iraq) includes large wideband satellite terminals, more portable, very small aperture terminals (VSAT), switches, a Global System for Global Communications (GSM) cellular telephone network, voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) solutions, mobile satellite systems, collaboration tools, optical fiber rings and microwave systems to name but a few. The systems we are acquiring today are so complex and wide reaching that all the pieces need to be acquired at the sa me time to realize their full potential. Using my airplane example, imagine purchasing an airplane in a fashion that one Service picks the cockpit, one Service picks the engine, another Service picks the landing gear. And then the parts are delivered in different years. That’s what makes keeping all the Services synchronized so critical and such a challenge to the Joint Staff.’
Nancy’s long and intricate career has really impressed us (and the US government has awarded her numerous medals) and we think she is a great role model for women today- showing how that with determination, intelligence and a love of technology you can do pretty much anything.
Arianna Huffington, age 61, Grande Dame of the Huffington Post
Love her or hate her, the name Huffington is one we’re all familiar with, and Arianna’s meteoric rise to fame surprised the nation. Arianna created the Huffington Post in 2005 which turned out to be a surprise hit with the nation, with readers flocking in their millions to read her political views, stance on world news and look at galleries of babies in flowerpots. From its humble beginning, the Huffington Post grew and grew, with Arianna forming the Huffington Post Media Group and creating a pay model that has been emulated worldwide (and is often criticized) where the majority of the content is sourced for free.
Arianna was born in Greece (her original surname is Stassinopoulos) and she moved to England at 16, and then studied economics at Cambridge. She was very vocal at Cambridge, and this led to her appearing on the radio and TV work where she discussed politics and the world. This led to her regularly writing columns for national newspaper and she even wrote a book in the 80’s.
Arianna married Michael Huffington in 1986, and they moved to California together. Michael ran (unsuccessfully) for a seat in the US House of Representatives, which shot Arianna into the public sphere as she campaigned for him with numerous conservative articles, arguing for less welfare benefits and more exemptions for the wealthy. Her politics have changed in the preceding years and though she’s still rather right wing, she has demonstrated some left wing sympathies, such as heading a project that focuses on making car manufacturers work with alternative fuels. Her ambitions are never ending- she attempted governorship of California in the 2003 election (failed) and prior to the Huffington Post had established a few other websites (Ariannaonline.com, Resignation.com) before the success of The Huffington Post, and constantly aims to challenge boundaries.
In 2007 Arianna formed a deal with AOL whereby they acquired all of the Huffington Post assets for $315 million and signed on as editor-in-chief. The Huffington Post is still going strong today, and whatever we think of their business model is consistently churning out content and getting in those pageviews. Arianna has demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit and understands of what the online world wants, and she’s an example of how you really can turn a blog into a business.
Dr. Sally Ride, age 61, Astronaut
Dr Sally Ride is what we like to call a trailblazer, as her career exploits led to her being the first American woman in space and helped encourage many women to enter the fields of science; the lure of outer space as the driving force.
Sally trained a Stanford University in physics and English and then undertook a masters and doctorate degree there was well. She was accepted into NASA’s astronaut training program and got allotted her first space mission in 1983. June 18th was the launch date and this is when Sally got to experience space in real time on the shuttle The Challenger. This was the start of her career in the outer limits and she served on another mission a year later.
Her career is varied, and after she stopped being involved in active duty Sally became the director of the California Space Institute at the University of California. She also started her own company called Sally Ride Science to motivate women and girls to get involved with science and math and to make them more accessible. I’m in awe of what she has accomplished and I think were I to look at my career choices again that astronaut might be high on that list.
Ms. Weili Dai, age 49, Co-founder, Marvell Technology Group
Weili Dai has an impressive resume by anybody’s standards. She co founded Marvell Technology which is one of the top semiconductor companies in the world and is vocal about getting more women into science.
Weili was involved in semi professional basketball when she was young, which taught her team skills and sharpened her competitive instincts. She went on to study Computer Science at Berkeley and set up Marvell Technologies in 1995
Her role at Marvell involves getting other brands involved with the company and she’s spearheaded their strategy for international growth, especially USA/ China relationships
Not only is Weili heavily involved in making Marvell a powerful company, but she also gets involved with many charities, and gets Marvell involved with these initiatives. Some of her outreach work includes the One Laptop per Child program and the disaster relief Give2Asia program. She juggles all her commitments with managing a family, and her two sons are currently both studying Electrical Engineering UC Berkeley- so brains and innovation clearly runs in the family.
Weili is an advocate for getting more women involved on science and says that as a society we need to really understand “the subtle differentiation of what women can do. As a society, we need to be thoughtful about planting the seeds in media, sports, toys and books. Rather than just having a Barbie doll on toy shelves, we should have Barbie who is interested in computer science and technology.’
We couldn’t agree more with this and I’m proud of Weili and her championing of women’s rights in the scientific world.
‘It is pure mythology that women cannot perform as well as men in science, engineering and mathematics. In my experience, the opposite is true: Women are often more adept and patient at untangling complex problems, multitasking, seeing the possibilities in new solutions and winning team support for collaborative action. The best thing we can do to grow the global economy is to encourage more women to go into science and technology fields — in essence, to encourage girls and women to release their inner geeks.’
* I realize Weili is not yet 50, but she’s close and I’m including her.
Temple Grandin, age 64
Temple Grandin’s tale is one of modern day myth; born severely autistic and with no speech till 3 years old, Temple’s life looked initially bleak. Placed in private schools she started to flourish academically. Though her social skills remained limited. You probably already know some of this tale, as Claire Danes portrayed temple in a Hollywood remake of her life, but here are the main points.
Temple found she associated better with animals than with humans and grew alarmed at how livestock was treated- and how that the conditions of the slaughterhouse only increased pain and fear in the livestock rather than relieved it. As a young girl she’d been soothed by a squeeze chute used for immobilizing cows and recreated one at home that later grew into a model used to treat autistic kids nationwide. She became more attuned to the fact that animals really could sense stress and pain, and she went on to do a graduate degree in animal science at Arizona University. She worked at the same time, being the livestock editor of the Arizona Farmer Ranchman for five years, and learned that cattle has a lot in common with autistic people and had similar stress signals and behavior when they were unhappy.
Temple wanted to reduce the stress of an animal’s death- not by going vegetarian-but by promoting more humane ways to end their life. In 1975, she founded her own company, Grandin Livestock Handling Systems.
This company grew to be known for its pioneering approach to animal handling and Temple published many papers detailing her methods. Her name became famous when McDonalds was prosecuted for inhuman animal treatment and Temple was hired to help improve conditions. She discovered that animals at the slaughter plants could view the ramp that took them to their death and this led to fear and chaos. She devised a chute that led cattle to the slaughter house that was circular to limit the field of vision and stop animals from freezing up and refusing to go forward when they witnessed scary things. This led to animals feeling better- and quicker production times, so her device was picked up and used on an international scale. Temple went on to analyze other stressors at the plant such as light and sound and created scientific reports to show how these could be adjusted for humane reasons and better efficiency.
Temple has written numerous books including ‘Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior’ and a guide to autistic children and their families about how to address their condition. Temple has proven that being autistic need not limit what you can do in life and that we should re-evaluate society’s attitude to autistic people.
There are far more women than those mentioned who qualify for this piece- a few off the top of my head would be Ginni Rometty, Red Burns, Hilary Clinton, Meg Whitman,and more but I wanted to focus on women from various subject areas, and have included those from a science background, legal background, aerospace background and more to illustrate how diverse tech roles can be.
All the women featured are an inspiration and I hope to achieve half as much as they have done in their lives.