Ada Lovelace Day: Kathy Sierra

In honour of Ada Lovelace Day, this is a blog post about a woman I admire in technology: Kathy Sierra.

I’ve been a big fan of Kathy’s site for a number of years, hers was the first site I saw where eloquent prose was wrapped around technical and relevant content. I’ve widened my reading list since that day but it made a big impression then, and re-reading the articles now it is clear I still have plenty to learn from them. Kathy’s blog Creating Passionate Users is stuffed full of great articles, and I prescribe all of them as good reading if you have the time. There are some gems in there though, that have completely shaped my own attitude to my profession and learning – its tough to pick favourites, but I would like to give mention to Angry/Negative people can be bad for your brain, the true but unchangeable When only the glib win, we all lose and of course Code like a girl.

A while after I started reading the blog, I started to hear more about Kathy Sierra herself and some of the things she’s done in her career – and its pretty impressive reading. She started her career in the fitness industry but with a strong interest in how the brain processes information she moved over into writing games. As a master trainer at Sun (wow!) she developed more ideas about learning and went on to co-found the Head First books. These are technical books with a very visual style, different from the drier offerings we usually see on software topics. Kathy also founded JavaRanch and is now a popular speaker across the technical conference circuit, inspiring many.

From the article so far, you can see why I name Kathy Sierra as an influence for me as a woman in technology – she has achieved so much and shared knowledge with so many. However, there’s another reason I hold Kathy in my mind. Almost exactly two years ago, she cancelled a speaking engagement at ETech following her reciept of threats of violence (including sexual violence). Her blog hasn’t had another post since her post regarding that episode. There was a virtual storm when it happened, with some very strong opinions on both sides of the fence – I even blogged about it myself at the time. Two years on, no more inspirational blog posts for me to read and my sense of injustice is as strong now as it was then. I also have this dark sense of vulnerability. I’m a woman in IT; I speak, I blog. I’m visible and one day I hope I’ll be successful – and of course I’ll always get comments made to me that are inappropriate, offensive and intended to hurt. That’s the price of being female and visible online, and the “pix pls” thing comes with the territory. But to be simultaneously female, popular, and successful in an online field … lets just say I’ve had my eyes opened to the dangers if I ever manage more than one of those.

I’ll wrap up by thanking Kathy for all her excellent writings, hopefully one day I will see her speak but already I’ve been educated and inspired. I wish I hadn’t also learned the darker things from her experience, but they’re definitely secondary and came along helpfully early in my career. Kathy Sierra is my inspirational woman in Technology – who is yours?

2 thoughts on “Ada Lovelace Day: Kathy Sierra

  1. Ada Lovelace Day has turned into an epic voyage of discovery. You’ve wrapped up the personal, the political, the technical and the female in one lovely post here and I look forward to more!

    WOW! i’m following your links and had no idea about Kathy Sierra. Which deserves a lot more following. Or the Head First books which will be brilliant for my daughters.

    Like the sparkly soccer balls, I’ve bought my kids “The Periodic Table – Elements With Style” by Simon Basher. It’s got very modern fun visuals and really makes science fun for kids rather than patronising them with yuurrgh.

  2. This is a post in celebration of Ada Lovelace Day, recognising women in science and technology. Last year I wrote about Kathy Sierra for Ada Lovelace Day; this year my subject is someone much closer to my own life. I’d like to write about someone who

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