Maggie Philbin: Ada Lovelace day 2010

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science. The first Ada Lovelace Day was held on 24th March 2009 and was a huge success. It attracted nearly 2000 signatories to the pledge and 2000 more people who signed up on Facebook. In case you are not aware of who Ada Lovelace was, in short she is regarded as the world’s first ever computer programmer.

And what are the pledges for? It’s a pledge to write on your blog about an admirable woman in technology or science and to then submit the blog to the Finding Ada website, so there is a large collection of stories about women in technology.

I’d like to name Maggie Philbin from the BBC as one of my female technology heroes. Why Maggie? Well I know a lot of the Finding Ada blogs will be about academic heroes, or Nobel laureates, but I thought I would mention someone who really convinced me to get into technology myself in the first place because of her TV work on technology.

When I became old enough to understand technology programmes on TV, the flagship science and technology show on the BBC was called Tomorrow’s World – a show Maggie presented for 8 years. You can take a look at the BBC archive of Tomorrow’s World shows here – I particularly like the Christmas 1982 edition as it has the theme music I always preferred.

Maggie was always the least geeky, most normal and down to earth, of the Tomorrow’s World presenters, something reassuring when I was a young kid who could write software on every microcomputer on the market – before I even owned one. I would hang around in department stores studying them, exploring the chip-set, and often breaking them in the process as I loitered around the shop bashing Z80 assembler into a 6502 chip. But I never saw my own interest as something geeky – it was a means to an end, and meant I could get the computer to do things that were fun, such as writing my own games.

Maggie Philbin always made technology in the 1980s really interesting – and fun. Just look at this video of satellite TV from 1989 – before satellite TV had actually launched in the UK! I’m sure there was a plan and a script, but it looks more like ad lib, because of course they used to broadcast live back then – so there were occasional technology disasters when the supposed new technology just did not work on TV.

So if I was going to explore how I ended up taking the career path I did, first into software development and eventually writing and teaching about technology (and the effects of technology), then the BBC bears much of the responsibility. First for broadcasting a prime time show like Tomorrow’s World with such memorable antics as spreading jam on a CD to see if the laser would still work. Then second, for memorable presenters like Maggie making the subject matter interesting and connecting it to real life, rather than just being the stuff of the laboratory.

So Maggie, please join the others on the Finding Ada list of honour!

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