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Linda Macaulay: from Programmer to Professor of System Design

Social media handle(s): Blog, @lindamacaulay (Instagram), @ hellocomputeruk (Twitter)

A few words about me:

Does your husband expect his tea on the table when he gets in from work?

– a question I was asked when being interviewed for a job as Applications Programmer. I was 23 years old with a degree and Masters in Computing and yet it was the fact that I was a married woman that was at the forefront of his mind. It was 1973. It couldn’t happen now or could it?

Can a woman be technically minded, want to be financially independent and still be a good wife and mother? I've tried to be that woman. Mine is a story of tension between old and new, between career and family, between the quest to keep apace of technology while retaining humanity – about explaining why who codes matters and why more of us should be women.

Is your background more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) or non-STEM related?

STEM - Maths and Computational Science

Where did your professional journey start?

I’ll never forget that momentous day in 1967 when I saw my first computer. Aged 17, I was awestruck that a machine could carry out instructions and, what’s more, it could carry out my instructions. I simply asked it to add two numbers together, told it how to do it and, to my amazement, it displayed the correct answer. I could do it over and over again with different numbers and it was always right. I was hooked for life.

Computers have changed immensely in my lifetime: they’ve got faster, smaller, more intelligent, and they’ve become networked and embedded in everyday objects. They have been central to my development and as they have changed, so has my life.

How did you get into tech and what motivated you?

My first job in 1973 was in a hospital when computers in wards were still experimental. l was interested in how you could design a system that a nurse could use when tending to patients. It wasn't obvious at all – the computer was a big, heavy machine, too noisy to be taken into a quiet hospital ward. The computer programs followed fixed logical procedures. In contrast, the nurse was more flexible, sensitive and acted intuitively depending on the needs of patients. They were from different worlds - the human on one side and the computer on the other.

This experience led to me being interested into the design of human computer interaction in both theory and practice. User needs should be embedded in that design and, ultimately, in the software/hardware itself. Human Computer Interaction and System Design are my passion.

Have you experienced any 'career in tech' challenges / stereotypes?

I feel that being a woman in a predominantly male profession meant I had to be strategic about my career choices, be skilful in building teams and networks and be determined to create a leadership style that suited me. Unfortunately, gender bias remains a problem not only in the computing workforce but also in the way systems are designed. Who codes really does matter.

"Technology changes constantly but fundamentally humans don’t change that much and no matter what your interest ..., there will always be opportunities and challenges that tech can help you solve."

What you wish you knew before getting started in tech...

I wish I'd been more aware of the unconscious biases we build into tech. Technology and data are not neutral and often embody archaic social and political biases.

What has been your biggest 'wow!' moment related to working in tech so far?

Designing a graduation ceremony in the virtual world Second Life (in 2009) and working with collaborators to mount actual graduations for global MBA students.

What do you like / not like about working in tech?

As well as technical skills in computer programming and design, I have had to be creative in bringing forward new ideas, develop problem solving and analytical skills, while at the same time think about the ethics of my actions/decisions. Bringing together an understanding of people with technical know-how has been immensely rewarding.

"Who codes really does matter."

What's been your favourite / most memorable / funniest 'career in tech' moment so far?

My favourite moment was when a champion body builder and trainer Kerry Kayes came to my office and asked if we could get him/his business on the internet (in 2000). We managed to draw down financing from the government office for small businesses to put a team together to build, what became a very successful e-commerce/community building site. Most exciting was seeing the site logo on Sky TV – it was on the T-Shirts of the trainers in the corner of Manchester boxer Ricky Hatton.

And to wrap up, is there any advice you'd like to give to others interested in a career in tech?

All our futures will be influenced by technology, technology designed by humans – hopefully all kinds of humans not just male. Life as a woman in tech may still be a challenge but the more of us there are, the more enlightened our world will be. Technology changes constantly but fundamentally humans don’t change that much and no matter what your interest: medical, financial, pharmaceutical, astronomy, forestry, weather or the Earth’s ecosystem, there will always be opportunities and challenges that tech can help you solve.

Build design skills alongside technical skills, set a goal to become a leader in tech so that you can influence the content and purpose of new technologies. Examine your own values and align what you do in work with those values. Be confident in your own ability and always be learning – increasing your knowledge and skills. Hone your team building and negotiation skills. See your life at work as a journey - a cycle of setting goals, planning, re-assessing your achievements, moving forward. Be curious and enjoy learning.


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