You’ll have to forgive my silence over the past few weeks as I’ve been doing 12 hr days commuting to the National Nuclear Laboratory, on placement with their modelling and simulation team. I’ve been working on robotics simulation bringing together all my knowledge acquired over the past year at the University of Leeds on an Artificial Intelligence BSc.

As part of the course I was invited to a function hosted by Google and the University of Aberystwyth for a British Computer Society Womens event. Since that event I’ve been in frequent contact with Google as I’m hoping to do an internship with them for part of my Year in Industry 2014/15. Through these links I’m realising more and more about the extent of support given to Women in Industry, particularly science and engineering by large organisations such as Google and realising the potential that is literally up for grabs.

I’ve just been offered the chance of a trip to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women 2013, in Minneapolis, MN to “Join exceptional women leaders in computing as they explore this year’s theme, ‘Think Big, Drive Forward.'” Hosted by the Anita Borg Institute, Anita was the inspirational American computer scientist (1949 – 2003) who founded the Institute for Women and Technology and the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. Her legacy remains in The Anita Borg Institute that seeks “to increase the impact of women on all aspects of technology, and the positive impact of technology on the world’s women.”

‘Amazing’ Grace Hopper (1906 – 1992) needs little introduction as the American computer scientist and United States Navy Rear Admiral. “A pioneer in the field, she was one of the first programmers and conceptualized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages. She also developed the first compiler and is credited with popularizing the term “debugging” (motivated by an actual moth removed from the computer)”. She has both a U.S. Navy destroyer USS Hopper and the Cray XE6 “Hopper” supercomputer at NERSC named after her! [Wikipedia]

I was asked to submit a possible project that Google would support and I instantly thought of Viviana in the Amazon. I first met Viviana’s mother as she worked in the clinic on the island of
Ilha do Combu, a 45 minute boat trip from the vibrant city of Belém in northern equatorial Brazil. The islands are still very much isolated from the mainland in development. Most of the community live off the river without electricity and despite ‘Brazil’s women’ lowering the fertility rate for the entire country there are still many island women who do not realize the choices that IT can offer them.

Having visited the clinic and the local school with the incredible local organisation Ama Zon Art Viviana’s mother invited us to spend an unforgettable night on the river staying in their house on the riverbank. There I met her daughter, Viviana, and learnt how she had had to give up college when her father was killed by a snake bite. He worked every day in the rainforest collecting acai berries, a staple food for the area, and literally couldn’t get to the clinic in time to receive the anti-venom.

I believe young women like Viviana should be allowed the same chances that the internet brought me. Simple as. I will find out in the next few weeks if we can provide that support but in the meantime I can only smile at the memories of that amazing night on the river and how truly strong some women can be.

[Viviana (in blue top) on her ponte/ bridge that connects her house to the river and their small boat, the only transport they have. With the Ama Zon Art team, 2012]