Tag Archives: Karen Spärck Jones

Wednesday Geek Woman Special Edition: Google Sydney and their meeting rooms

Cross-posted in edited form from the Ada Initiative blog.

The Ada Initiative, the non-profit Valerie Aurora and I have founded to increase women’s participation in open technology and culture, is fundraising right now with our Seed 100 campaign. The aim of the campaign is twofold: to raise money for our startup phase including program development, and to demonstrate to larger sponsors the community interest. We’re in our last week and our big push to reach 100 now.

We’ve resisted posting about Seed 100 here to date, since we want GF and the Ada Initiative to stand apart, but we enjoyed this story a lot, so we’re cross-posted it as a Wednesday Geek Woman special edition, honouring both the Sydney Google Women Engineers Group themselves, and the women they’ve named their meeting rooms for!

One of our donors at the Analytical Engineer level is a consortium, the Sydney Google Women Engineers Group. We asked the members of this group to answer some interview questions and tell us a little more about themselves, the Sydney Google office, and why they donated.

Tell us more about the Google Sydney Women Engineers Group.

Photo of Alice

The Sydney Google Women Engineers group is an official network, and all of the women engineers are included. We have lunch together once a month and we have an ongoing budget for events that promote and encourage women in computing, group activities and off-sites. For example, recently we took an acrylic painting class together; for a bunch of engineering types, the opportunity to splash paint onto canvas was certainly novel!

The Google Sydney office has meeting rooms named after historical women in computing. Which women and why?

Photo of Eddy

The names of the meetings rooms are: Antonelli, Lovelace, Hopper, Spärck Jones, Liskov and Perlman. The names were chosen by the women engineers’ group by consensus, after much discussion.

  • Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper were obvious choices as some of the most well known (and hugely influential) women in the history of computing.
  • Kathleen “Kay” McNulty Mauchly Antonelli was one of the original ENIAC programmers.
  • Photo of Susannah

  • Karen Spärck Jones‘ work on information retrieval, and her invention of the Inverse Document Frequency measure in particular, is especially relevant to Google as a search company.
  • Barbara Liskov‘s well-known work in object oriented programming language theory earned her a Turing Award, John von Neumann medal and numerous other honours.
  • Finally, Radia Perlman‘s work on network design, in particular her Spanning Tree Protocol is also fundamental to our daily work.

Photo of Katie

The room names were voted on by the entire office, so we needed to promote our idea to everyone. It took the support of the whole office, men and women, for the idea to be put into place, and we’re really proud of seeing the names there today. Here is what we wrote to promote the idea:

The women in computer science’s history are too seldom celebrated, despite the fact that they have been an active part of the field since its very inception [...]. By naming our meeting rooms after the women who have helped make our field what it is today, we can make a positive statement about Google’s commitment to promoting gender equality in computer science, while paying tribute to these pioneers and reflecting the Sydney office’s openness to diversity.

In addition to being named after women in computing, each room has a picture and biography of the woman it’s named after.

Is the Ada Lovelace meeting room where your [Seed 100 donor reward] print from the Lovelace and Babbage comic will end up or do you have other plans for it?

Photo of Kendra

Yes, the Lovelace and Babbage poster will take pride of place in the Ada Lovelace meeting room once it arrives, along with the photo and bio of Ada Lovelace that is already there.

See the Ada Initiative blog for more information about the donation the Google Sydney women engineers made.

Does anyone else honour famous women geeks in this manner? Do you have meeting rooms, computers or anything else named in their honour? If you were naming your meeting rooms, which names would you use?

Always check behind you for linkspams when out after dark (March 19th, 2011)

  • BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, and IBM are pleased to announce a new annual event, the BCS Karen Spärck Jones Lecture honouring women in computing research. Fran Allen will give the first lecture on 24 May 2011 at the BCS London office.
  • The GNOME Outreach Program for Women internships are open for another round, from May 23 through August 22, 2011 with applications closing April 8. That round coincides with Google Summer of Code and GNOME enourages women interested to apply for both programs.
  • [Trigger warning for tokenism] On Being Feminism’s “Ms. Nigga”: Latoya Peterson on tokenism, conferences and feminism. Some folks would call that an attempt at diversity – but it is a nefarious double bind for those of us who get the nod. To refuse to participate may mean that voice is never represented, that the voices are the underrepresented are once again unvoiced, unheard, and perhaps unknown. Unfortunately, absence can be interpreted as a reinforcement of the status quo… However, to accept the position also means to be pressed into the token spot.
  • Luciana Fuji Pontello, a GNOME Women’s Outreach participant and the Cheese webcam application developer responsible for the application’s camerabin port and gobject introspection support was interviewed for International Womens Day.
  • [Trigger Warning for implied violence and disregard for women] Tim Buckley of the ctrl-alt-del gaming comic criticises some of the “padding” quests in Dragon Age 2 which are… insidiously disturbed: [...] when I came across a sparkly pile of bones in Darktown labeled “Remains of (some woman whose name I can’t really remember), and upon looting got actual remains instead of treasure, I figured I’d started a quest at least worthy of a small cutscene about how this guy’s poor wife had been kidnapped by the slavers I’d just finished slaughtering, and how happy he was that he could now give her a proper burial. But nope. Instead it turned out to be just another schmuck who acted like he’d misplaced his fucking car keys or something. Maybe customs are different in Kirkwall, I don’t know.
  • [Trigger Warning for implied violence and disregard for women] For bonus failpoints, there are multiple quests that follow this script in the game. Fuck you, Bioware. Really. To quote one gamer friend: Baldur’s Gate II doesn’t mean you get away with this.
  • The Ladycomicsparty is back for another year: If you are a lady who is involved with comics, and you’ll be near NYC around the MoCCA fest, you should come to this!
  • Jeri Ellsworth devised a $10 version of a $5000 safety product and was accused of having set back the progress of women 100 years. Whaaaaat? As Cory Doctorow notes, Misogyny is alive and well in technology circles. An Ellsworth supporter retorts that The only way Jeri Ellsworth could set back women 100 years would be by developing a time machine in her guest room.
  • Ladyada on the front cover of Wired! (And doing it Rosie the Riveter style!) This is the first female engineer to appear WIRED’s cover.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the geekfeminism tag on delicious or the #geekfeminism tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Wednesday Geek Woman: Karen Spärck Jones, leading computational linguistics researcher

Wednesday Geek Woman submissions are open for one more day.

Portrait of Karen Spärck Jones, 2002

Portrait of Karen Spärck Jones, 2002, (CC BY, University of Cambridge)

This post originated in two Ada Lovelace Day posts in 2009: Ada Lovelace Day profile: Karen Spärck Jones and Ada Lovelace Day wrap 2: Karen Spärck Jones elsewhere

I first heard about Karen Spärck Jones, who was a senior scientist in my field of computational linguistics, in 2007 as part of my paying job, which was as the editorial assistant for Computational Linguistics. Just before she died, Spärck Jones wrote Computational Linguistics: What About the Linguistics? which we published posthumously as the Last Words column for Vol. 33, No. 3. (Spärck Jones was aware both that she was dying and that her column was going to appear under the heading ‘Last Words’.) I was never able to correspond with her directly: she died before we even had the camera ready copies done.

Spärck Jones’s academic career began in 1957, and was funded entirely by grant money until 1994: most academics will recognise this as a hard way, requiring researchers to fund their own positions with grant money awarded in cycles.

Spärck Jones was the originator of the Inverse Document Frequency measure in information retrieval (1972, “A statistical interpretation of term specificity and its application in retrieval.”, Journal of Documentation, 28:11–21) which is nearly ubiquitously used as part of the measure of the importance of various words contained in documents when searching for information. (The word ‘the’, for example, is very unimportant, as it occurs in essentially all documents, thus having high document frequency and low inverse document frequency.) She had a long history in experimental investigations of human language (most computational linguists are now in this business). She was also at one time president of the Association for Computation Linguistics.

Awards Spärck Jones won in her lifetime include Fellowships of the American and European Artificial Intelligence societies, Fellowship of the British Academy, the ACL Lifetime Achievement Award and the Lovelace Medal of the British Computer Society.

Spärck Jones was a popular subject for Ada Lovelace Day profiles in 2009, here are some of the others:

Martin Belam wrote a long profile quoting extensively from Spärck Jones’s interviews and speeches and focussing on both her own career progression: she worked with Margaret Masterman at the Cambridge Language Research Unit. “You have no conception of how narrow the career options were [for women],” is one of Belam’s quotes. Here is Spärck Jones:

We were trying to get at girls in schools [to take up computing] and we knew we had to get to the teachers first. We found that the spread of computing in the administrative and secretarial world has completely devalued it. When one of the teachers suggested to the parents of one girl that perhaps she should go into computing the parents said: ‘Oh we don’t want Samantha just to be a secretary’. That’s nothing to do with nerdiness, but the fact that it’s such a routine thing.

Bill Thompson was a student of Spärck Jones’s, and wrote about her influence on him as a fellow philosopher turned computer scientist. He also wrote her obituary for The Times (and, in 2003, that of her husband, fellow computer scientist Roger Needham).

IT journalist Brian Runciman remembers Spärck Jones as the most interesting woman he’s ever interviewed in Computing’s too important to be left to men. (“I think it’s very important to get more women into computing. My slogan is: Computing is too important to be left to men.” seems to be Spärck Jones’s best known quote.) In the interview with him, she talked about how her ideas permeate modern search engine implementations.

Wikipedia: Karen Spärck Jones
Obituary in Computational Linguistics.

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