Tuesday 15 October 2013

My Ada Lovelace post: Donna Robinson

My post for this Ada Lovelace Day is about a woman in computing who inspired me, a friend of mine called Donna Robinson. I first met Donna when living in Guildford, when I was 23. We shared a house (with two other people). She took me shopping for a toolbox (metal, not plastic) and tools (hammers, pliers, mole grips, hacksaw, screwdrivers, and lots more, everything I'd need to be self-sufficient). I didn't have much money. "Trust me", she said, "it's worth investing in good tools". I still have those tools and the toolbox and they're still in use, more than 15 years later.

Donna writes open source code. She made the Oxford College Student Database. She made Valkyrie for Valgrind. She made a library of Scottish Country Dances for the SCDS. She's continually making open source stuff for people, but most of it isn't visible on the web (and neither is she). She financed her open source work by doing up run-down houses in the day, and hacking her code all evening. She chooses not to have an ordinary 9-5 stable job, and it takes a lot of time and effort to do that.

What has most inspired me about Donna is not her coding (though she does that), or her handiness at any manual jobs (though she does that), or her dedication to whatever she chooses to do (see for example how she helped her cat get better after an accident) but her attitude: she knows that with enough time and research she can do whatever she wants to achieve, and she never seemed to have that worry that she wouldn't be taken seriously because she's not male.

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