Dr. Ellen Spertus is not afraid to say the F-word: FEMINISM!

Photograph of Ellen Spertus

Dr. Ellen Spertus: Not afraid to say the F-word

Why are there so few female computer scientists?” That was the title of Dr. Ellen Spertus’ first major publication, written in 1991 when she was an undergraduate at MIT. “I grew up programming computers and before long I wondered why there weren’t any other girls doing what I liked to do,” she recalls.

Today, Ellen is a Professor of Computer Science at Mills College and a Research Scientist at Google. She has mentored countless girls and women in entering and contributing to computer science, and recently joined the Ada Initiative’s board of advisors. “As a computer science professor at a women’s college, I support the Ada Initiative because they improve the environment my students will work and play in,” she says. “There’s no point encouraging women to enter the pipeline if there’s a meat grinder at the end.” That’s why Dr. Spertus donates to the Ada Initiative – and hopes you will join her in donating today.

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Smiling woman

Valerie Aurora, Ada Initiative co-founder

Valerie Aurora, a computer programmer and an Ada Initiative co-founder, didn’t start wondering where the other women were until she was much older. “In 2001, I realized that out of the hundreds of people working on the Linux kernel with me, I couldn’t think of a single other woman.” She started searching the Internet for clues to this massive disparity and found Ellen’s work, which she read and re-read. “Without Dr. Spertus as a leader and a role model, the Ada Initiative might not exist.

Ellen started writing about and advocating for women in computer science when she took a class at MIT with Sherry Turkle. She had read the “Barriers to Equality” report laying out the ways women were marginalized in the computer science program at MIT. Inspired to write a term paper on the subject, she wondered if she would be able to write 25 pages on the subject – and surprised herself by writing 100!

Four women standing at a conference and smiling, CC BY-SA Jenna Saint Martin Photo

Women enjoying a conference with an anti-harassment policy

The focus and passion born in that moment play out today in both her teaching and research. She supports the Ada Initiative because “I am grateful that the Ada Initiative is out there holding companies and people accountable,” she says. “And the work is incredibly effective. Just a couple of years ago, there were only a few people talking seriously about anti-harassment policies at conferences. Now it has become a mainstay.

During her tenure at Mills, a trans-inclusive women’s university, she has directed and still mentors students in a late-entry computer science program, supporting people of all genders in entering the field later in life than their undergraduate years. Some of her favorite research at Google is focused on bringing computer science to kids – through projects such as App Inventor and Hour of Code – in a gender-inclusive way.

We’re incredibly grateful for Dr. Spertus’ support, as an advisory board member and as a donor! We hope you’ll join Ellen and donate today to support women in open technology and culture (and get our spiffy new “Not afraid to say the F-word: FEMINISM” sticker).

Black and white sticker with text reading "Not afraid to say the F-WORD adainitiative.org"

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