A LEADING computer scientist has told a Yorkshire audience that the public’s perception of technology must change to help the UK flourish.
Dr Sue Black told an audience of female technology experts in Leeds that the popular public perception of computing and technology is still “computer says no”.
Dr Black, who led a campaign to save Bletchley Park, the historic site of secret British codebreaking activities during World War II and the birthplace of the modern computer, is behind a new not-for-profit organisation called the <goto> foundation.
She said there is a global technology revolution going on at the moment, but asked: “Are we at the front? No, I don’t think we are. The whole idea behind the <goto> foundation is that we could be at the front.”
The organisation aims to rebrand computer science and raise public awareness and knowledge of technology.
Dr Black said: “We need to get everyone in the country just a bit more tech savvy. It’s been shown that technology enables innovation, so if we get people across all different areas to understand and feel more comfortable with technology then they are so much more likely to innovate in whatever they do.
“If they start innovating they are much more likely to be in a productive organisation, and if they are in a productive organisation then there will be lots of productive organisations and then the economy will flourish.”
Dr Black, who is a senior research associate in the software systems engineering group at University College London and a senior consultant with Cornerstone Global Associates, told the audience at a Leeds Girl Geek event, that she left school at 16 and was married with three children by the age of 23.
Post-school, she had taken various jobs including one at the council and another in nursing, before a position came up in the accounts department of a record company.
“I really liked my job and I wanted to go back to work after having my first baby.”
Dr Black explained that at the time, by law, your job would only be held if you had been there two years – she had been in the job a year and 51 weeks, so she lost it.
“Fast forward another few years, in the interim I got divorced at 26... and then realised I’d be supporting three kids on my own.”
She took the decision to get some further education and ended up studying for a degree in computer science before going on to do a PhD. Dr Black first came across Bletchley Park, today a museum, when she went to a British Computer Society meeting there as chair of the BCSWomen Group – a network for women in computing which she founded in 2001.
In 2008, she was invited back to Bletchley Park and was shocked to see the state of the buildings, including the huts where codebreakers worked during World War II. Their work is said to have helped shorten the war by two years. Simon Greenish, the director of Bletchley Park, told her that £10m was needed to keep the site open.
Dr Black led a campaign to save the historic site, which included gathering signatures for a petition from eminent UK computer scientists, getting the story into the media spotlight and using the power of social media to get her message across.
In an interview with the Yorkshire Post, Dr Black said the number of women in technology and computer science hasn’t changed over the past 20 years.
“One of the things I really want to do with the <goto> foundation is to get the average person to understand technology a bit more.”
The Leeds Girl Geek dinner was held at Leeds Metropolitan University’s Old Broadcasting House. The organisation provides networking opportunities for women working in technology.
To find out more visit www.leedsgirlgeeks.com
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