Category Archives: gender

BBC Women in Technology meet #1, TVC bar

Tonight we had our inaugural Women in Technology meet at the TVC Bar in W12. My colleague Dorothy Molloy, senior software engineer, and I had been kicking around ideas for a meet for a while and if you’d read my last year’s resolutions you’ll know that I’ve wanted to put on an event or do something promoting / encouraging women in technology for a while now.

At the last BeeBCamp in November I ran a session on ‘Who gives a **** about women in technology’ which did result in some lively discussion and when I mooted the idea of a meet up in the future it was favourably met. The end of the year seemed to fly by and never found the right time to have a meet before Xmas and it was looking like we were fast approaching February when the Clay Shirky “A Rant About Women’ came to my attention via Twitter and I knew it was something that should be discussed further – not least because everyone had a different opinion on whether it is seriously patronising, tongue in cheek or something else! Also my colleague Jamillah Knowles wrote her thoughts up in a blog post which in turn caused more comments from friends closer to home.

Anyway, this evening at rather short notice and not overly publicised, we met up in the aforementioned bar and some really interesting discussion took place. Attendees came from all over the corporation: Vision, Learning, FM&T, Journalism, Radio, News and World Service. After introductions, the Clay Shirky blog post started us off and as expected views were varied and it was really interesting to hear how many interpretations of reading between the lines this post could generate, but we didn’t really stick to talking about this post for too long and went off on a voyage of personal experiences and thoughts across the piece.

Subjects for discussion included:

  • Experiences of women in technology in different cultures – is there a difference?
  • How many women in technology progress up or stay at the bottom?
  • Competitive behaviour between women
  • Pay and gender
  • Finding out about career opportunities / strategies across departments
  • Roles / competencies
  • Is there patriarchal society in the West?
  • Confidence, arrogance and bullshitting
  • Mentoring
  • Connection between programming, music and maths
  • Training vs learning on the job
  • Fun geeky persuits: Failblog, B3ta, geek chic, etc

A great night all round with really varied views and experiences, we will definitely meet again soon for more civillised discussion!

PS. I must thank LJ Rich for teaching us how to impersonate a goat – very handy ;-)

Ada Lovelace Day: Delia Derbyshire – sound alchemist & bobmother of British electronica

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a pledge day to write about a favourite or inspirational woman in technology, set up by Suw Charman Anderson. I’m always wittering on about how we can encourage more women to be interested in careers in technology, I think this is a great idea – so here’s my contribution!

Delia Derbyshire:

One of my earliest childhood memories is hiding behind the sofa when the Doctor Who theme tune came on the TV… The mesmeric sounds were a signal that scary monsters were about to invade my consciousness. I’ve grown to love the Doctor Theme tune in its own right because and of this special memory I got to hear about Delia Derbyshire and her pioneering work in music technology.

Delia Derbyshire homage - created from an obscure photo I found

Delia Derbyshire homage - created from an obscure photo I found

Fast forwarding from my childhood, I was made aware of Delia Derbyshire in 2002, via my on-going appreciation of Doctor Who, growing participation in the emerging digital arts and technology scene, and through an event called TV Swansong, which became a tribute to her. It was set in an Oxfordshire quarry with the contributions of several alumni of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop: Mark Ayres, Brian Hodgson, Peter Howell and Paddy Kingsland – they created a three day extravaganza of sounds and visuals inspired by Delia and her creations at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

So who was Delia?

Delia Ann Derbyshire, electronic music pioneer and sound synthesist, was born on 5th May 1937 and studied for a degree in mathematics and music at Girton College, Cambridge. In 1957, she applied for a job at Decca Records, but unbelievably, was turned away, as at the time they didn’t employ women in their recording studios! She worked for the United Nations in Geneva and also Boosey & Hawkes before getting a job as a trainee studio manager at BBC Maida Vale Studios in 1960.

She joined the fledgling BBC Radiophonic Workshop in 1966 after requesting an attachment. Whilst at the BBC, Delia created theme tunes and scores for over 200 radio and TV programmes where her expertise in electronic music would give an edge, such as: drama, historical, futuristic or emotive pieces, but she didn’t appear in personally in the credits for these as at the time the umbrella credit ‘special sound by BBC Radiophonic Workshop’ was used. Ahead of her time, the BBC apparently also rejected many of her compositions, claiming they were too bizarre, “too lascivious for 11 year olds” and “too sophisticated for the BBC2 audience”. Outside the BBC, Delia set up Unit Delta Plus, an organisation to create and promote electronic music, they held a festival combining electronic music and visuals by Hornsey College of Art lecturers and was billed as the first concert of British electronic music. This eclectic event was attended by Sir John Betjeman, who apparently fell asleep in the front row!

Delia also went on to set up the Kaleidophon studio, producing electronic music for theatre productions and released an album with collaborators under the band name White Noise and in 1969 released an album called ‘An Electric Storm’. She also worked under the name ‘Russe Li (De La)’ (anagram of Delia), contributing to the Standard Music Library, later used on rival 70s ITV sci-fi programmes, such as The Tomorrow People and Timeslip.

In 1963 Delia probably developed one of the most important pieces of early digital music and certainly one of the first pieces of electronic music used for television: the iconic Doctor Who theme tune. She created it by recording the individual notes from electronic sources one by one onto magnetic tape, cutting the tape with a razor blade to get individual notes on little pieces of tape and sticking all the pieces of tape back together individually to make up the track and the process took weeks to complete. This and her other work became an inspiration for generations of electronic artists including the likes of Stereolab, Broadcast, Sonic Boom, Aphex Twin, Sonic Arts Network and of course The Chemical Brothers who created their own mix of the Doctor Who tune.

In the 70s Delia became disillusioned with the apparent future of electronic music and withdrew from the scene, working in an art gallery museum and bookshop. Unfortunately, the Radiophonic Workshop was closed in 1998, a casualty of the Birtist rationalisation as it wasn’t making enough revenue to cover its costs, but in the late 90s Delia Derbyshire was rediscovered by practitioner fans and her passion was re-invigorated. She started work on an album with Peter Kember, but Delia sadly passed away on 3rd July 2001 before it was finished of complications from breast cancer.

The legacy of this electronic wizard will live on though, she bequeathed her personal collection of work to Mark Ayres who, in collaboration with Manchester University, is working on digitising her works.

In 2002, a play about her work at the Radiophonic Workshop, ‘Blue Veils and Golden Sands’, was aired on Radio 4. Two years later, at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow another play about her, ‘Standing Wave – Delia Derbyshire in the ’60s’ by Nicola McCartney.

Links:

For an in-depth overview of Delia Derbyshire’s life, career and a ‘Deliaography’ visit http://www.delia-derbyshire.org
http://delia-derbyshire.dyndns.org/

BBC Radiophonic Workshop: http://www.mb21.co.uk/ether.net/radiophonics/index.shtml
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC_Radiophonic_Workshop
http://whitefiles.org/rwg/

If anyone has any copyright free, CC licensed images of Delia it would be great to use them to illustrate this post :- )

Connecting Women in Technology 2009

The chatter is deafening… I’m in the company of about 300 women (and maybe 3 men) who work in technology and we’re connecting. Someone alluded it to walking into a ‘tsunami of women’ and they were spot on!

Today is International Women’s Day and it’s very apt that I’m at Connecting Women in Technology 2009, participating in a light-hearted speed networking competition in the extended tea-break and meeting lots of women who work in technology in various roles. I’m the only BBC person here and yes I’m the only one wearing a geek t-shirt and I can’t help noting only a couple of us are dressed casually ie not in smart attire – so somewhat different to my usual experience of tech events. The event, hosted at Microsoft today, is a meet up of a partnership representing the women of 7 top tech companies: Microsoft, Google, Intel, Nortel, IBM, Cisco and Dell. Everyone has a clutch of dots, each company has their own colour so there’s much smiling and swapping going on as ladies attempt to get as many as poss and at least one from every company. After the exercise there are a clutch of ladies who stand up when we’re asked who got all 7 company dots and the two ladies who had collected the most dots had over 20 each and receive a big round of applause.

This event is all about “aiming to retain, inspire and empower women and grow their contribution in IT by developing a community and Network”. There’s lots of talk about career development and tips. I giggled at a cartoon shown by one of the speakers that related to how you can ruin your career with Facebook – I guess I’m not as corporate as some, but it’s a reminder to be careful about what you say which is obvious, but I guess sometimes it might be worth considering after a night out or a particuarly frustrating day ;-)

I’m presently listening to a Q&A panel and the questions are interesting, they’re centered around networking and some of the more interesting thoughts concern how women and men network differently – there’s lots of varied thoughts and I feel a bit sorry for the two guys on the panel who are definately treading carefully ;-)

At the centre of today’s proceedings is the lovely Eileen Brown, IT Evangalism Lead at Microsoft. Eileen set up Connecting Women in Technology, she’s a master at the art of networking and also a proper geek – she grew up tinkering and wanted a career at sea, so became a systems engineer on oil tankers.

Today I’ve met interesting women who I wouldn’t usually meet which is great, especially meeting women who work in other areas of technology who aren’t on the sharp end of developing – in fact I’ve only met one female developer today and it was genuinely interesting to share what systems and coding languages we used in our work and particular companies.

I really enjoyed the speed networking, the competition element was a cool way of getting people to get over their shyness or social ettiquette worries and barge right into a conversation and say hello – think I’m going to tweak & reuse this idea at the next BarCamp or BeeBCamp I attend :-)

The takeaway thought for today is to be confident and genuine with your networking foo and don’t do it for the sake of ticking boxes!