Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Hi all,
It's been a while since I posted here but I've been asked to post my contribution to Ada Lovelace Day, the international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. I've posted it below - hope you enjoy it!
Kate

Last year, I wrote about one of my first technical mentors, Lee McIntyre. This year I thought I'd write about someone I didn't personally know, but who is having a world-wide impact and who is behind some of the latest innovations in laptop technology: Mary Lou Jepsen.

I first heard Mary Lou Jepsen speak at the Grace Hopper Conference in 2008. I'd heard about One Laptop per Child (OLPC) but didn't know much about the company or Jepsen herself.

If you haven't heard about it, OLPC is a project to create a low-cost, cheap, durable laptop that could be used by kids in developing countries. The laptops are networked to enable communication over long distances. Here's their mission statement:

"To create educational opportunities for the world's poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning. When children have access to this type of tool they get engaged in their own education. They learn, share, create, and collaborate. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future."

Jepsen's talk was inspiring, and we certainly did see examples of children engaged in their own education through OLPC. For instance, Jepsen talked about a young girl who started a 'laptop hospital' in Egypt for her friends, repairing their OLPCs if they got broken.

Not only did Jepsen succeed with her vision, but she was also able to make technical innovations along the way, particularly with the screen of the laptop. She used her background in Holography and Optical Science (she has a Master of Science in the former from the MIT Media Lab and a PhD in the latter from Brown University) to invent sunlight-readable display technology and co-invented the OLPC's ultra-low power management system. At the time, the XO OLPC was the lowest-power laptop ever made. You can even charge your OLPC by turning a crank, which is useful in places without easy access to electricity!

There are other ways Mary Lou Jepsen is inspiring particularly to me. Her degrees in physics-related fields gave me confidence that someone with a background in physics (me) could study Computer Science and be successful in this field. She's also an entrepreneur, having founded four companies prior to working on OLPC, and at least one after (Pixel Qi). I had my own business during my undergraduate years, so it was cool to know that entrepreneurial skills are useful and valued in technology! Jepsen also works on socially-minded projects, and it's wonderful to see that in technology, you can apply your creativity and skills to projects like this and still gain professionally.

What's she working on now? I was so happy to learn that at her new company, Jepsen is working on a screen that has an E-ink AND regular laptop screen mode. One device can do both! I've been waiting for this for years. If you'd like to learn more, check out Mary Lou Jepsen's blog.

2 comments:

daniela said...

Hey this Daniela Im from Northeastern Illinois University. I am majoring in computer science and I am taking a course, that focuses on Women In Computing. I like the article that you posted about the olpc's project. I think this project will help alot of poor kids in the world and also I like what the egyption girl did. Im encourging you to study computer science I think its so helpful to know a lot about computer espically that we (all women) want to raise the number of women who study computer sience in this world.

Edward said...

Another connection with women in computing comes from the plan to teach half a billion girls programming and Computer Science, starting in third grade with present techniques, and possibly sooner as we learn more. (Half a billion boys, also, of course.) We can speed up the process by replacing printed textbooks with digital learning materials under Free licenses, since XOs are already less expensive than printed books in many countries.

Also, there is a Nigerian XO Laptop Hospital run by six-year-old girls.

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