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Anita's full bioAnita Borg

1 What is IWT and how is it relevant to the tech/computing industry?

2 Describe your recent appointment to the President's Council?

3 How do you feel about the new, casual work environment compared to the old-fashioned business environment?

4 How do we get young women into technology?

5 How did you get started working in the tech industry?

6 How many women in America work in computer/tech industries?

7 Have you been interested in math and science since you were a kid? Who inspired you?

8 Which is more important, experience or education?

9 What are your hopes for the future of the Women in Technology Institute?

10 How did women creating technology become so important to you?

11 What asset is necessary for women to make it in the tech world today?

12 Where is the best place in the U.S. to pursue a career in technology?

13 What kinds of interests do you have outside of work?

14 What is your greatest career accomplishment?

15 What things help keep you motivated and focused?
Anita Borg , Researcher, Xerox Park; Founder, IWT

Our special guest today is Anita Borg, Researcher for Xerox PARC. Dr. Borg, after receiving her Ph.D. from New York University, worked from 1986-97 at Digital Equipment Corporation. While there, she developed and patented a performance analysis method for high-speed memory systems, as well as MECCA, a system for communicating in virtual communities. She then moved to Fame of Women in Technology International (WITI). Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) conducting advanced research in the office of the Chief Technologist.

Now Xerox is a supporter of her latest R & D project-the Institute for Women and Technology. Under the leadership of Dr. Borg, President and Founding Director of IWT, the organization focuses on increasing the impact of women on technology and increasing the positive impact of technology on the world's women. Her many awards include 1995 Augusta Ada Lovelace Award from the Association of Women in Computing, 1995 Pioneer Award from Electronic Frontier Foundation, and induction into the WITI Hall of Fame in 1998.

And now folks, please welcome Anita Borg! Anita, such a pleasure to have you with us this afternoon.

Anita: Thanks very much. It is great to be here!

Moderator: Anita, to start us off tell us a bit about IWT and its relevance to the computing /technology industry as we know it.

Anita: At IWT, we think that women must be involved in every aspect of defining the future of technology, from policy to research to design and implementation. We must be there in order to assure that the technology of the future serves us well.

guest-Clarice asks: Can you tell us about your recent appointment to the President's Council?

Anita: Last month, President Clinton appointed me to the Commission on the Advancement of Women in Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology. The Commission, whose creation was initiated by representative Connie Morella, is charged with recommending strategies to the nation for increasing the breadth of participation fields. We have held one public hearing. There will be another on October 6th in Seattle.

guest-CCCoco says: What is your opinion of the new Silicon Valley-style of business, where people are casual, wear jeans, don't have job titles, and bring their dogs to work as opposed to the old-fashioned business environment? Do you think this is either better or worse for women?

Anita: I don't believe that that is necessarily a correlation between the freewheeling style and a good place for women to work. I did enjoy bringing my dog to work. We need to really take a look at how women are treated. It could be that these places are, for example, more family-friendly. But I know a number of wild startups that will let you bring your dog, but expect you to spend your entire life at the company.

Moderator: All the talk of high-flying techie jobs can be pretty intimidating to a kid in high school. Where do we begin to let young girls know that they can make a go of it too? Where do they start?

Anita: I'll answer that by telling you about a workshop I ran for 55 girls aged 8-13 in Sydney, Australia. We asked them to help the innovators at the university by brainstorming about future technology. We asked them to be wild and let their ideas fly. They were brilliant. We could hardly get them to stop when time was running out. At the end, we took one of their ideas (the flying-swimming-self-driving car that runs on water and will go to space) and talked about all the different professions that would be involved in creating it. They were fantastic. They left energized. I think that we need to offer kids the opportunity to express their brilliance without restraint. Who am I to say that such a car is impossible in THEIR lifetime?

Moderator: I believe that to be true too - I used to teach kids computers a few years ago and found that girls are as good, if not better, at initiative and interest in science - as long as we don't push myths at them :-) Anita, where did you start? What was your first job in the tech industry?

Anita: My first job was kind of weird. I had actually quit for a couple of years -- in those days (late 60's) it was very common for a young wife to quit and put her husband through school. So I got a job as girl Friday (sheesh!) at a small insurance company where I taught myself to program. Then I went back to school and got a degree.

guest-pcrosby asks: How many women are now in computing industries and technology in America?

Anita: I don't have the absolute number at my fingertips. I do know that 9-10% of the engineering workforce (which includes much more than IT) is female. The numbers of women coming into the technical careers in the traditional way, by getting degrees is dropping -- or at least the percentage of women getting these degrees is dropping. I worry about that. Even though there are many other ways to get in, the credentials of a degree make a huge difference in what doors are open. This is one of the reasons that IWT is actively working with universities to make their programs more appealing and relevant to women.

Moderator: Were you always interested in math and science as a kid? Who were your role models/inspiration when you were growing up?

Anita: I guess my Mom inspired me to have fun solving problems. It was the challenge of the puzzle that I enjoyed. I had enough good teachers to stick with it. They didn't make me feel that I was weird for liking math. It was natural for me to go into computing. It is a lot of puzzles, but the solutions are relevant to everything we do!

guest-sigmagirl says: Which is more important, education or experience, or do you consider a mix of the two most important? Can you learn on the job, or is it important to get a full education?

Anita: As I said before, credentials open a lot of doors. It is also the case that education teaches you fundamentals that apply to many different problems you will have to address. It teaches you ways of thinking and dealing with many problems and situations. However, it can sometimes be a bit too abstract -- though we are trying to change that. I was glad to have had some experience in the real world when I went back to school. I had a bit of an understanding of why I was doing all the studying. So both are really important. I know computer science Ph.D.s who couldn't program their way out a paper bag. But I also know people who are frustrated at their limited advancement because they didn't get a degree.

guest-GG says: What are your hopes for the future of the Women in Technology Institute?

Anita: Let me stress that it is Women AND technology. I make this a point because it relates very much to our hopes about IWT, not as any kind of put down. There are many ways that women can impact technology without being IN technology. We need both kinds of women. I want the Institute to become a world-class research lab as the center of a worldwide network of projects (academic and industrial) that bring women's perspective to technology. This is critical if the technology of the future is to have a positive impact on ALL women's lives -- women in Silicon Valley, women in Africa, women in the developing communities of the developed world.

guest-Joannie says: How did encouraging women to connect with the computing industry become so important to you?

Anita: I've been interested in woman's issues for a long time. I am very proud to call myself a feminist -- a person who believes that all people should have equal opportunities to contribute fully in the world. It was a natural combination of my interest in computing and my feminism to think about my female colleagues.

Moderator: What to you is the single most important asset a woman needs to make it in the techie world today? Is it enough to be a brain or is brawn necessary, too? (In the practical sense, of course. The old "Oh, she's too pushy" thing.)

Anita: Hmmm.... I think that focusing on a single thing would deny the incredible richness that women have to bring to technology. But a little "brawn" in a male-dominated world comes in pretty handy.

Moderator: LOL! Amen!

Siliconnoisseur514-guest says: In your opinion Anita, where are the best areas of the country to pursue IT careers at this time? Is the Silicon Valley still the #1 hotbed of IT, or is it losing some grounds to newcomers?

Anita: I think that Silicon Valley is still the leader just because of the density of people and ideas here. But the opportunity provided by the Internet could well change that. The one thing that Silicon Valley has in abundance is a "Go-For-It" attitude. It also has a culture in which an occasional failure is expected, so people are very willing to take risks. Not every culture gives people that kind of freedom.

Moderator: What passions/interest do you have outside of work? Or does work take up your all?

Anita: Work makes it a bit difficult to exercise my passion. But I love to travel, and my current work has enabled that. I love to go to tropical places, and my work has NOT enabled that, so most of my relaxation is gardening, working on my house, and mountain bike riding.

Moderator: What is your greatest career accomplishment?

Anita: That's a hard one. I am very proud of the current work at the Institute, but I am also very proud of the technology work I've done. The best is yet to come, so please… stay tuned!

Moderator: Unfortunately we are nearing the closing of today's event. Anita, do you have any closing comments or parting advice for us today?

Anita: Just that I would like to say being in technology is hard, but in the bigger picture, anything that is really worth doing in our lives --- stick with it. See if you can find ways to combine your vocation and your avocation, your intellect and your passion!

Moderator: Thank you all for joining us.

A special 'Thank You' to Anita Borg for chatting with us! It was such a pleasure!


 
 
 
 


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