I met Sue Black for the first time on 9 February 2006. I’d entered the poster contest at the BCSWomen Grace Hopper Colloquium for women PhD students, and Sue introduced the day and judged the poster contest. It was my first women-in-computing event and to be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect. Working in computer vision I am quite used to being the only woman in the room at conferences and so on, which is odd, but you adapt. Would an all-women techy event be different? Geeky? Bitchy? Competitive?
It turned out that all-women techy events are none of the above. It was supportive, friendly and chatty, with much less of the competitive edge I’d come to expect from conferences. There’s much less willy-waving – presumably because there aren’t any willies to wave. At that day I met several women who I now count as friends (and who could have been the subject of this Ada Lovelace day post – Karen Petrie and Reena Pau in particular), and as a direct result of that day I’ve joined BCSWomen, become an activist, and now run a one-day event for undergrads along similar lines, the BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium.
But of all the people I met that day Sue Black inspired me the most and continues to do so, so here you go:
As a mature student studying for her PhD at South Bank university Sue decided that there was a need for a women in computing group in the UK, and in 2001 BCSWomen was formed. It’s centered around an e-group on Yahoogroups, and now has around 1000 members. The group does all sorts of useful things to support women in computing – CV advice, mentoring, one-day events for particular groups, face-to-face networking meetings, research, journalism, talks in schools… and it was all started, supported and driven by Sue.
She’s a software engineer who does serious research into serious technical issues, too – she’s published around 30 peer-reviewed conference and journal articles on software engineering methodology and testing. She didn’t do it the easy way either, but as a mature student with kids, doing her undergrad and PhD at South Bank, visiting Kings College University, getting a lecturing position back at South Bank… And she’s now (less than a decade out of her PhD) head of Department at Westminster. Talk about a meteoric rise!
Last year Sue decided to scale back the BCSWomen activity (she is now head of Department, after all) and to concentrate on her other main passion – saving Bletchley Park. As the home of the UK codebreaking effort during the war, Bletchley was the birthplace of British computing, and really needs to be preserved for the nation. Thanks to Sue’s efforts in publicity and fundraising there have been some major grant successes, articles in the national press, and a real groundswell of support for Bletchley. The battle is far from over, but the outlook for this centre of national importance is improving almost daily, and that’s got a lot to do with Sue.
If you want to follow Sue, she’s on Twitter as @Dr_Black and she’s got a webpage at http://www.sueblack.co.uk/ and a Bletchley focussed blog at http://www.savingbletchleypark.org/. I’d recommend it – she’s got great energy and enthusiasm, and is one of those rare people who can really get things done.