Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Celebrating Ada Lovelace Day – thanks Mom

Posted by shannonclark on March 24, 2010

My mom taught me computer programming when I was 8.

Today (March 24th) is Ada Lovelace Day, a day to celebrate the impact of woman in technology especially computer programming.  The idea is for people to blog about their favorite tech heroine.

For me, it is my Mom, Nancy Clark. Not only did I learn programming and flowcharting by doing the homework on flowcharting she was assigning to the class she taught at a local college on computer programming when I was 8 years old and riding in the back seat of the family Volvo. But she was also in many important ways a computing pioneer.

She started programming in the late 1960’s after graduating early from the University of California Berkeley. She worked while she followed my father around the country. But her career was impressive. At Southern Pacific Railroad she was part of the team that “computerized” the whole railroad in the early 1970’s, an initiative which lead to great profitability. (see http://www.wprrhs.org/wphistory_80candles/wphistory_80candles.html for a history of Western Pacific and then Southern Pacific railroads, look in particular at the history in the early 1970’s as the railroad computerized. That was the work of my mom.

When my father took a position as a professor at Virginia Tech (where I was born a few years later) my mom took a position at the university helping to write the software which would run the entire university administration. This included a very early experiment in e-commerce where she attempted to tie the bookstore’s ordering systems to the campus class registration system to have the bookstore order the right number of books for each class (at the time however this early great idea didn’t work very well).

Years later we moved to Chicago (after a few years in New York) where my mom in an early example of a career path now familiar to millions was an independent computer consultant. At times she held multiple jobs, working as a computer consultant for a few clients while also teaching computer science at a local college. But she was always there for my sister and I and set an example that woman could have complex, technology based careers. Careers which were challenging and intellectual.

In talking with my grandfather in the past few years I have learned that I am a third generation computer person, my grandfather in the course of his career worked with and deployed some of the most complex computer installations of the day. He was literally a bit of a rocket scientist (he was trained as an aerospace engineer, designed jets for many years and then for 20+ years worked for Aerospace Corporation where he headed up their work for the US government deploying & designing satellites, mostly spy satellites). His first use of computers at while working as an early employee at Rand Corporation trying to mathematically model flight. Then years later at Aerospace corporation he deployed pairs of IBM mainframes across the globe to track and find nuclear explosions around the globe.

But most of his work was classified and though i’m sure some of his engineering focus rubbed off on my mom, mostly as I understand it his work was a mystery to my mom and my aunt (and my grandmother).

So the credit for my mom’s technical expertise and nearly 30+ year career as a computer programmer and consultant lies entirely with her and her ongoing drive to educate herself and to learn new technologies as well as remain a master of the older systems she helped write and design.

She mostly worked in the less well known types of computer programming, business languages such as Focus, used by firms such as actuarial firms to manage large pension plans. But her work managed very complex systems and in many cases helped form the base upon which the modern, Internet, always-on technology world is built.

So she is my heroine today (and always).

thanks mom!

One Response to “Celebrating Ada Lovelace Day – thanks Mom”

  1. kai chang said

    Good on your mom, Shannon! She sounds like an awesome lady, and you are blessed to be her son.

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