Ada Lovelace Day: Wendy Hall

It’s Ada Lovelace Day – the day to bring to the fore the successful female role models in the traditionally male dominated fields of technology and science.

I’ve chosen to blog about Wendy Hall – now Dame Wendy Hall DBE, FREng, FBCS, FIET, FCGI, FRS.  Today she’s  Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton, UK, and Dean of the Faculty of Physical and Applied Sciences.

She probably wouldn’t know me from Adam, but my first job after graduating was working for the language lab at the University whilst I started my (as yet unfinished) PhD, scanning language texts and linking them using this new ‘thing’ – hypertext – on a project called Microcosm, which was absolutely her baby. She was one of the first people to seriously research the possibilities of multimedia and hypermedia.

For the first time, it was easy to make associations between subjects in unrelated documents. It seems almost impossible now, but we were at the bleeding edge at the University, with students using word processors!

I’ve rarely seen Wendy’s name on the conference circuit. and she’s not prolific on Twitter (@DameWendyOBE). But she became a Dame Commander of the British Empire in the 2009 UK New Year’s Honours list, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in June 2009.

Why? Her work has has had huge significance for digital libraries, the semantic web, and more.

According to the University, her current research includes applications of the Semantic Web and exploring the interface between the life sciences and the physical sciences. She is also the MD of the Web Science Trust and helps shape science and engineering policy and education.  – she is currently a member of the UK Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology, and is a founder member of the Scientific Council of the European Research Council.  She was President of the British Computer Society (2003-4) and an EPSRC Senior Research Fellow from 1996 to 2002.

It’s something of a shame that much of the recognition she earns is on the basis of her gender rather than the amazing work she’s done, not only in her own right, but in inspiring others and shaping the minds of future scientists. That’s an impressive CV by anyone’s standards. I don’t think we see or hear anything near enough of Wendy Hall, now one of the UK’s most influential women in computing, and hope that others will see her as I do: an inspiring role model for generations of future computer scientists…. of any gender.

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