This is a post in celebration of Ada Lovelace Day, recognising women in science and technology. Last year I wrote about Kathy Sierra for Ada Lovelace Day; this year my subject is someone much closer to my own life.
I'd like to write about someone who influenced me greatly - in my choice of study and in my attitude to the gender imbalance in that area and in the industry in which I now work. Mrs Maginnis taught me advanced maths when I was 16-18, and making decisions about my next move. I was educated at an all-girls grammar school, which in some ways was an advantage. The experience of those all-female maths classes taught me a lot about how different women are when they meet their individual challenges in the company of one another.
The classes were very tough academically (as they should be!), and I did struggle during the course. At the start of the summer holiday, Mrs Maginnis handed me a textbook with a list of questions to try, and her phone number. All summer I wrestled those questions, with the occassional phone call for help. I went back to school, completed the year, and left the following summer with two A grades in A-level maths - undoubtedly because of the help and support I had been given by this one teacher. Those two A grades landed me my first choice of university place - I thanked her and off I went.
However, the strong influence of this character has stayed with me long since the memorable day I opened the results envelope. I was headed for a course in Electronic Engineering and Mrs Maginnis had been a Mechanical Engineer herself and I think had a good idea of what lay in store for me. The thing is - I was educated entirely with women ... I genuinely did not know that there were subjects that girls just don't do. So when I arrived at university with my academic grades from the all-girls school, I was confronted by a course that was 95% male and contained mostly people with grades at least as good as mine and usually including more practical subjects such as Electronics, which I hadn't had the opportunity to study. So it was a struggle from that point of view.
The teacher who had, on paper, taught me maths, had in fact taught me so much more. Even now I sometimes remember stories, anecdotes, and advice that all drifted across the classroom along with the hyperbolic functions and calculus (which is a much more distant memory now). She had been an engineer herself, and through her stories she showed us all how it would be done, something on what to expect and some tips on how to handle it. Even now I don't think I've had a stronger female role model for industry - and she managed all this from academia, when I was a teenager. So - I raise my glass to Mrs Maginnis. Thankyou for all you taught me.