The Steve you’ve never heard of in computers but should have done

So there’s this computer programmer, right, and we’re talking someone who was the first freelance programmer, who built a UK startup into a firm worth hundreds upon hundreds of millions, who incidentally nearly died in the Holocaust – and I’d never heard of her before today.

And that would all be because of that word ‘her’. 

Dame Steve Shirley.

She was a young girl in Nazi Germany, she was a girl in a boys’ school – because girls’ schools didn’t teach maths – and then she was a woman in computing. A friend’s just written a novel that touches on the topic of the Suffragettes and I couldn’t read it without the old simultaneous emotion of pride that human beings could fight for what was right – and shame that there even needed to be a fight at all. Her novel quotes a journalist of the time and the journalist in me today wants to pick him up by the collar and explain with lots of emphasis about impartiality.

I can’t abdicate responsibility for my ignorance over Dame Shirley: I worked in computing, I wrote a lot about computing, I know a huge amount about the Silicon Valley history, I should know about her. I wrote that subject heading above with the presumptuous presumption that you didn’t know of her either and I’m sorry for trying to drag you into my ignorance.

Now you definitely know about her and now I certainly know about her – and I am an instant fan. Thanks to Brain Pickings and in particular this post about Dame Shirley and her autobiography, Let IT Go. And there’s a terrific video about her on that page.

The fact that she did all she did while so badly treated just because of her sex reminds me of the line that Ginger Rogers danced every step that Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels.