Friday Round Up: When Will We See a Female Steve Jobs?

by Gloria Feldt on October 7th, 2011
in Gender, Inspiration, Leadership, No Excuses, Power Tools, Tell Your Story, Workplace and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” –Steve Jobs (1955–2011, rest in peace)

Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement Speech 2005

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If you, like me and millions of others were moved by the too-young death of Apple creator Steve Jobs this week, and in mourning happened upon the video of his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, you saw someone who exuded authenticity, a man who had clearly learned to trust his own inner voice.

Jobs invented technologies that changed our lives, enlarged how we think about many things, and created enormous wealth. His speech employed No Excuses Power Tool #9 masterfully: it consisted of three personal stories that delivered his message with stunning clarity and a few surprises. I had known he was adopted, for example, but not that the college educated adoptive parents his birth mother had wanted for him rejected him because they wanted a girl, so he ended up with working class parents who had only high school educations. One can only wonder: what if he had been a girl and adopted by the highly educated parents, would she have accomplished what he did? And if she did would it have been recognized and recorded or would the credit have gone to men as so often happens? And if not, would it be because she wasn’t encouraged to study the things he did or given the freedom he apparently had to be a nonconformist?

That’s purely speculative of course, or as Jobs said in his speech:

“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

And he went on to say about choosing one’s life work:

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

But the thing is, in order to have the aspirations, one must be able to see oneself in the story. And women have not yet seen themselves in a story as bold and big as what Jobs did. It’s time to change that. It’s time for the next Steve Jobs who creates world changing new technologies that change how we think and create quantum wealth to be the female as he was expected to be.

It is of course entirely possible that woman exists or has already existed and we just don’t know about her. Like Ada Lovelace, who is said to have been the first computer programmer. She was born Ada Gordon in 1815 to the poet George Gordon, Lord Byron, and his mathematics-loving wife Annabella Milbanke. Ever heard of her? I thought not. I sure hadn’t.

Fearing that Ada would inherit her father’s volatile ‘poetic’ temperament, her mother raised her under a strict regimen of science, logic, and mathematics. Ada herself from childhood had a fascination with machines– designing fanciful boats and steam flying machines, and poring over the diagrams of the new inventions of the Industrial Revolution that filled the scientific magazines of the time.

See what happens when girls are educated in the STEM disciplines? At 19, Ada married an aristocrat, William King. King was made Earl of Lovelace in 1838 and thus Ada became Lady Ada King, Countess of Lovelace.

The rest of the story is so fascinating and so completely lost from history that it warrants more than a short quote here:

In 1833, Lovelace’s mentor, the scientist and polymath Mary Sommerville, introduced her to Charles Babbage, the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics who had already attained considerable celebrity for his visionary and perpetually unfinished plans for gigantic clockwork calculating machines…Lovelace was deeply intrigued by Babbage’s plans for a tremendously complicated device he called the Analytical Engine, which was to combine the array of adding gears of his earlier Difference Engine with an elaborate punchcard operating system. It was never built, but the design had all the essential elements of a modern computer.

In 1842 Lovelace translated a short article describing the Analytical Engine by the italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea, for publication in England. Babbage asked her to expand the article, “as she understood the machine so well”. The final article is over three times the length of the original and contains several early ‘computer programs,’ as well as strikingly prescient observations on the potential uses of the machine, including the manipulation of symbols and creation of music. Although Babbage and his assistants had sketched out programs for his engine before, Lovelace’s are the most elaborate and complete, and the first to be published; so she is often referred to as “the first computer programmer”. Babbage himself “spoke highly of her mathematical powers, and of her peculiar capability — higher he said than of any one he knew, to prepare the descriptions connected with his calculating machine.”

Ada Lovelace died of cancer at 36, a few short years after the publication of “Sketch of the Analytical Engine, with Notes from the Translator”.

The Analytical Engine remained a vision, until Lovelace’s notes became one of the critical documents to inspire Alan Turning’s work on the first modern computers in the 1940s.

Her thwarted potential, and her passion and vision for technology, have made her a powerful symbol for modern women in technology.

But the cool thing is that this very day, October 7, has been declared Ada Lovelace Day as a way to inspire and nurture those girls who might well become the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerbergs. And you can help.

The Ada Lovelace Day website asks that people share their stories about a woman — whether an engineer, a scientist, a technologist or mathematician — who has inspired them, by writing a blog post, recording a podcast, filming a video, drawing a comic, or picking any other way to talk about the women who have been guiding lights in your life. “Give your heroine the credit she deserves!” they urge.

I hope you’ll take time to do this (I’d love you if you post a copy here too) and encourage others to do so as well. The girl you encourage might be your own. I think Steve Jobs would approve.


Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

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