Tagged: #featured

Interview with Dame Stephanie Shirley

I had the great fortune to interview Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley for the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley. A child refugee from Nazi Germany, she went on to found a feminist software startup at a time when few people even knew what software was, and even fewer cared about feminist business models that put women’s needs first. She and her mostly-women employees wrote  some of the most important software for 20th century British industry and government–including programming the black box flight  recorder for the Concorde. She eventually became a billionaire and now focuses on philanthropy–particularly autism related causes. She was also the founding donor of the Oxford Internet Institute. Listen & watch here or read the transcript here. The interview was conducted over video link between her home in London and my home in the US. It runs about an hour.

For a much longer and more exhaustive oral history (many hours) check out Dr. Tom Lean’s interview with her for the British Library Oral History “voices of science” collection.


Against Meritocracy in the History of Computing

Meritocracy is often taken for granted, even though when you look at it closely it’s pretty clear that it’s a pleasant historical fiction. The danger of this fiction is that it clouds our judgment of the past, present, and future. It makes us sloppy about ensuring that everyone’s civil rights are being respected and hurts our understanding of the social systems that we live and work within.

The high technology sector is still one of the worst offenders when it comes to indulging in this particular fiction. So when I was recently invited to write a piece on the topic for CORE, the magazine of the Computer History Museum, I jumped at the chance to talk about this issue in a publication that helps remind Silicon Valley about its history. You can read the article here (it starts on page 28): Against Meritocracy in the History of Computing.