Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ada Lovelace day!

It's Ada Lovelace day today, and to celebrate some folks are getting together to write blog entries about a woman in technology they admire. I try to avoid putting too much politics here, but I figure this fits into the 'geekery' aspect of this blog.

So, I'd like to tell people about Graciela Chichilnisky. This will be largely based on her article "Sex and the Ivy League", so it's not exactly well-researched or cross-checked.
So first, who is she? She is one of the forerunners of modern mathematical economics, using geometric techniques to build economic models which have had some *huge* shifts in development policy worldwide.

Why do I think she's so admirable? Firstly, she is ridiculously talented. She skipped through college to start a phd in maths early, where in a 'test' year she proved herself by coming top of her class. (This despite raising a 2 year old child by herself and not speaking much english). And the rest of her career seems every bit as impressive.

Secondly, through all of this she remained deeply committed to helping others, to building models of international development that would help poorer countries and give them a more equal footing in the world, and particularly to the concept of sustainable development. She states that "the only genuine source of happiness in life is the feeling of being useful to others", and she really lives this.

Thirdly, she has had to go through some pretty shocking discrimination to get where she is. She says in this article that she recommends a policy of "turning dung into fertiliser" for women suffering discrimination, to take the 'energy' of that discrimination and turn it to their own advantage. When I first read that, it struck me as pretty blase, pretty dismissive, and maybe it's only that easy for her because she is so talented. But reading more about her, I'm realising that she *really* know what discrimination means, and even with her abilities it hasn't been easy.
Professionally, there have been several points in her career when important results have been attributed to male colleagues with serious career-threatening consequences, and spent at least 10 years in litigation against Columbia over pay discrimination. She also suffered more personal discrimination when she found she could not travel to Argentina with her first child - at the time the child would belong entirely to the father, a fact which kept her away from her home and her family at a particularly difficult time in her life. And she seems intent on using these experiences to help other people who are dealing with the same things.

So, Graciela Chichilnisky. She is an amazing mathematical economist as well as a fantastic person, and I would recommend reading more about her. I'm very much planning to myself :o)

Happy Ada Lovelace day everyone o/

1 comment:

miya^^ said...

did she really love lace? did she :P