Anita Borg , Researcher, Xerox Park; Founder, IWT
Our special guest today is Anita
Borg, Researcher for Xerox PARC. Dr. Borg, after
receiving her Ph.D. from New York University, worked from
1986-97 at Digital Equipment Corporation. While there,
she developed and patented a performance analysis method
for high-speed memory systems, as well as MECCA, a system
for communicating in virtual communities. She then moved
to Fame of Women in Technology International (WITI). Xerox's
Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) conducting advanced research
in the office of the Chief Technologist.
Now Xerox is a supporter of her latest R & D project-the
Institute for Women and Technology. Under the leadership
of Dr. Borg, President and Founding Director of IWT, the
organization focuses on increasing the impact of women
on technology and increasing the positive impact of technology
on the world's women. Her many awards include 1995 Augusta
Ada Lovelace Award from the Association of Women in Computing,
1995 Pioneer Award from Electronic Frontier Foundation,
and induction into the WITI Hall of Fame in 1998.
And now folks, please welcome Anita Borg! Anita, such
a pleasure to have you with us this afternoon.
Anita: Thanks very
much. It is great to be here!
Moderator: Anita, to start
us off tell us a bit about IWT and its relevance to the
computing /technology industry as we know it.
Anita: At IWT, we
think that women must be involved in every aspect of defining
the future of technology, from policy to research to design
and implementation. We must be there in order to assure
that the technology of the future serves us well.
guest-Clarice asks: Can you
tell us about your recent appointment to the President's
Anita: Last month,
President Clinton appointed me to the Commission on the
Advancement of Women in Minorities in Science, Engineering,
and Technology. The Commission, whose creation was initiated
by representative Connie Morella, is charged with recommending
strategies to the nation for increasing the breadth of
participation fields. We have held one public hearing.
There will be another on October 6th in Seattle.
guest-CCCoco says: What is
your opinion of the new Silicon Valley-style of business,
where people are casual, wear jeans, don't have job titles,
and bring their dogs to work as opposed to the old-fashioned
business environment? Do you think this is either better
or worse for women?
Anita: I don't believe
that that is necessarily a correlation between the freewheeling
style and a good place for women to work. I did enjoy
bringing my dog to work. We need to really take a look
at how women are treated. It could be that these places
are, for example, more family-friendly. But I know a number
of wild startups that will let you bring your dog, but
expect you to spend your entire life at the company.
Moderator: All the talk of
high-flying techie jobs can be pretty intimidating to
a kid in high school. Where do we begin to let young girls
know that they can make a go of it too? Where do they
Anita: I'll answer
that by telling you about a workshop I ran for 55 girls
aged 8-13 in Sydney, Australia. We asked them to help
the innovators at the university by brainstorming about
future technology. We asked them to be wild and let their
ideas fly. They were brilliant. We could hardly get them
to stop when time was running out. At the end, we took
one of their ideas (the flying-swimming-self-driving car
that runs on water and will go to space) and talked about
all the different professions that would be involved in
creating it. They were fantastic. They left energized.
I think that we need to offer kids the opportunity to
express their brilliance without restraint. Who am I to
say that such a car is impossible in THEIR lifetime?
Moderator: I believe that to
be true too - I used to teach kids computers a few years
ago and found that girls are as good, if not better, at
initiative and interest in science - as long as we don't
push myths at them :-) Anita, where did you start? What
was your first job in the tech industry?
Anita: My first job
was kind of weird. I had actually quit for a couple of
years -- in those days (late 60's) it was very common
for a young wife to quit and put her husband through school.
So I got a job as girl Friday (sheesh!) at a small insurance
company where I taught myself to program. Then I went
back to school and got a degree.
guest-pcrosby asks: How many
women are now in computing industries and technology in
Anita: I don't have
the absolute number at my fingertips. I do know that 9-10%
of the engineering workforce (which includes much more
than IT) is female. The numbers of women coming into the
technical careers in the traditional way, by getting degrees
is dropping -- or at least the percentage of women getting
these degrees is dropping. I worry about that. Even though
there are many other ways to get in, the credentials of
a degree make a huge difference in what doors are open.
This is one of the reasons that IWT is actively working
with universities to make their programs more appealing
and relevant to women.
Moderator: Were you always
interested in math and science as a kid? Who were your
role models/inspiration when you were growing up?
Anita: I guess my
Mom inspired me to have fun solving problems. It was the
challenge of the puzzle that I enjoyed. I had enough good
teachers to stick with it. They didn't make me feel that
I was weird for liking math. It was natural for me to
go into computing. It is a lot of puzzles, but the solutions
are relevant to everything we do!
guest-sigmagirl says: Which
is more important, education or experience, or do you
consider a mix of the two most important? Can you learn
on the job, or is it important to get a full education?
Anita: As I said before,
credentials open a lot of doors. It is also the case that
education teaches you fundamentals that apply to many
different problems you will have to address. It teaches
you ways of thinking and dealing with many problems and
situations. However, it can sometimes be a bit too abstract
-- though we are trying to change that. I was glad to
have had some experience in the real world when I went
back to school. I had a bit of an understanding of why
I was doing all the studying. So both are really important.
I know computer science Ph.D.s who couldn't program their
way out a paper bag. But I also know people who are frustrated
at their limited advancement because they didn't get a
guest-GG says: What are your
hopes for the future of the Women in Technology Institute?
Anita: Let me stress
that it is Women AND technology. I make this a point because
it relates very much to our hopes about IWT, not as any
kind of put down. There are many ways that women can impact
technology without being IN technology. We need both kinds
of women. I want the Institute to become a world-class
research lab as the center of a worldwide network of projects
(academic and industrial) that bring women's perspective
to technology. This is critical if the technology of the
future is to have a positive impact on ALL women's lives
-- women in Silicon Valley, women in Africa, women in
the developing communities of the developed world.
guest-Joannie says: How did encouraging women
to connect with the computing industry become so important
Anita: I've been interested
in woman's issues for a long time. I am very proud to
call myself a feminist -- a person who believes that all
people should have equal opportunities to contribute fully
in the world. It was a natural combination of my interest
in computing and my feminism to think about my female
Moderator: What to
you is the single most important asset a woman needs to
make it in the techie world today? Is it enough to be
a brain or is brawn necessary, too? (In the practical
sense, of course. The old "Oh, she's too pushy" thing.)
Anita: Hmmm.... I
think that focusing on a single thing would deny the incredible
richness that women have to bring to technology. But a
little "brawn" in a male-dominated world comes in pretty
Moderator: LOL! Amen!
In your opinion Anita, where are the best areas of
the country to pursue IT careers at this time? Is the
Silicon Valley still the #1 hotbed of IT, or is it losing
some grounds to newcomers?
Anita: I think that
Silicon Valley is still the leader just because of the
density of people and ideas here. But the opportunity
provided by the Internet could well change that. The one
thing that Silicon Valley has in abundance is a "Go-For-It"
attitude. It also has a culture in which an occasional
failure is expected, so people are very willing to take
risks. Not every culture gives people that kind of freedom.
Moderator: What passions/interest
do you have outside of work? Or does work take up your
Anita: Work makes
it a bit difficult to exercise my passion. But I love
to travel, and my current work has enabled that. I love
to go to tropical places, and my work has NOT enabled
that, so most of my relaxation is gardening, working on
my house, and mountain bike riding.
Moderator: What is your greatest
Anita: That's a hard
one. I am very proud of the current work at the Institute,
but I am also very proud of the technology work I've done.
The best is yet to come, so please… stay tuned!
Moderator: Unfortunately we
are nearing the closing of today's event. Anita, do you
have any closing comments or parting advice for us today?
Anita: Just that I
would like to say being in technology is hard, but in
the bigger picture, anything that is really worth doing
in our lives --- stick with it. See if you can find ways
to combine your vocation and your avocation, your intellect
and your passion!
Moderator: Thank you all for joining us.
A special 'Thank You' to Anita Borg for chatting with
us! It was such a pleasure!