Friday, October 12, 2012

channeling ada: a wikithon in honor of lady lovelace

This post was originally published on the Ada Initiative blog.

It's hard for me to believe that we're approaching the fourth annual Ada Lovelace Day (ALD), a worldwide blogathon celebrating women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). I don't even remember how I heard about the first one, but I do remember making a pledge: In honor of Ada Lovelace, the 19th-century mathematician who many credit with being the first computer programmer, I would write about a woman of my choosing who had made an important impact on some field of technology. That year, and each year since then, I've taken time to pick a person, learn more about her contributions, and explain why she was my choice for that year's ALD annals. (In case you're posts from 2009, 2010, and 2011, plus a BrainPOP cartoon bio I wrote and co-produced on Lady Lovelace.)

This year, however, things will be a little different...and all thanks to a couple of tweets.

Back in June, my friend Kendra tweeted that she was set to attend something called AdaCamp. "Yay women in open technology and culture!" she added as a brief descriptor. The sponsoring organization was the Ada Initiative, which I hadn't heard of at the time. But there were two Ada Lovelace references in one tweet, so my geek radar was off the charts! I had to check it out.

I now know that the Ada Initiative is a wonderful organization aimed at supporting women in open technology and culture—and in encouraging more ladies to join in these often male-dominated arenas. The group's definition of "open technology and culture" is pretty broad, by the way; it includes anything from open-source programming and other computer stuff (LINUX, etc.) to open education and publishing (MOOCs, TEDEx, etc.) to open or common creative works (Wikipedia, Creative Commons) to open or remix culture projects (mashups, vidding, and about a zillion web memes). This all sounded great to me, so I applied to AdaCamp, and in July I had the pleasure of joining Kendra at the two-day event in Washington D.C. It was the first "unconference" I'd ever been to. In a nutshell, that meant the participants came up with the session topics pretty much on the spot. It was a refreshing way to do things, and the energy and support from everyone in attendance was remarkable. Of course, there is something undeniably uplifting that happens when you bring close to 100 women together in one room...but to learn from and share experiences with ladies of such interesting and diverse backgrounds made the event that much more special.

Fast forward a few months to last week, when I happened upon another (re)tweet, this time from fellow AdaCamper Sarah Stierch (who, I might add, was one of the most delightful cheerleaders in all of AdaCamp). This tweet told of an event being held in London within a few days of Ada Lovelace Day (Oct 16th), an edit-a-thon of Wikipedia articles on women in the STEM fields. This wasn't the first I'd heard of Wikipedia edit-a-thons, where people gather to update and add to Wikipedia articles, usually on some particular topic. But it was certainly the first that I'd heard where the focus would be on lady STEMmers.

So my only question was...was there one happening in the States? I did a little digging, but couldn't come up with anything. And that's when I decided I'd just have to host one myself! Fortunately, I live in a major college town (Cambridge/Boston, MA) and I have friends who work at a number of local universities. Kendra, the woman whose tweet first alerted me to AdaCamp, is currently a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and she assured me she could find me a room at Harvard University, where Berkman is housed. So with her help, and with guidance from Sarah, a Community Fellow for the Wikimedia Foundation, a U.S. Ada Lovelace Day women-in-STEM edit-a-thon is officially happening!

So far we've put together a great lineup of volunteers to help us add to and create new pages on women who have been left off of the world's premiere online encyclopedia. And believe me, there are many important women missing from the pages of Wikipedia—or who are not included in Wiki lists of important contributors to the various STEM fields. This is, perhaps, not so surprising when you consider that only about 10 percent of Wikipedia editors are female. In fact, in addition to bringing attention to the plight of women STEMmers this Ada Lovelace Day, I hope very much to encourage women in particular to attend our gathering so that they can learn how to contribute more regularly to Wikipedia. This will be a key step in helping ensure that the world's most popular encyclopedia is written with a more representative voice for the millions who use it every day. To help me with this goal, I've gotten some excellent suggestions from local and regional Wikipedians, some of whom will be on hand to provide tutoring and guidance to newbie editors!

Anyway, there are a few spaces left for our Ada Lovelace Day Wikipedia edit-a-thon, so if you live in the Boston area and would like to stop by, check out our event page and register! For anyone else who'd like to participate remotely, we would love to have your help. I anticipate this will be an amazing way to celebrate Ada Lovelace and the pioneering legacy she left behind!

Thanks again to Sarah Stierch and the Ada Initiative for inspiration; Kendra Albert for helping me get things going; and the folks at Ada Lovelace Day (especially Suw), who got this whole thing started 4+ years ago. I look forward to seeing some of the rest of you on the 16th, either in person or online!

Ada Lovelace skill badge available from AdaFruit Industries.
Infographic by KnockTwice.

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