Spotlight Series: Suw Charman-Anderson of Ada Lovelace Day

October 16, 2012

Welcome to our Spotlight Series!

This is a new biweekly feature focusing on inspirational women that have achieved professional success in their industries. Each woman will work with S&L for a two week period, being featured on the Spotlight blog post, but also taking part in a Q&A on Twitter and engaging with our followers. We’re grateful for the dedication that these women have towards supporting women like them and look forward to sharing what we’ve learnt with all of you!

Today, on Ada Lovelace Day, we are pleased to put the Spotlight on Suw Charman-Anderson, founder of Ada Lovelace Day.

Suw began her journey like many others: wondering why there weren’t enough female speakers at tech conferences. It wasn’t because of a lack of women, either; it was a lack of female role models for other women.

“I read about the work of Penelope Lockwood,” she says, “[and found] a study which found that women need to see female role models more than men need to see male role models.”

Suw set out to create new role models for women by getting people talking. Her first pledge to get people writing about a woman in tech they admired found almost 2000 participants. And just like that, Ada Lovelace Day was born.

Suw’s advice to other young women starting out is to create a network of peers. “I think I struggled at university and after graduation because I didn’t have a network of peers who could give me advice and moral support,” she explains. “In fact, I didn’t really find that peer support until ten years ago, with the advent of blogging. The internet has allowed me to find people like me, people who understand me and whom I relate to.”

“Creating a network of peers, not just people your own age but also more experienced people, is an incredibly important thing to do.” 

Suw also advises women to try new things and take risks in order to progress. “Very few people have an old-fashioned, monolithic career these days,” she says, “for most, the opportunity to just start at the bottom and work your way up simply doesn’t exist anymore.” Being flexible, resilient and willing to learn new skills are essential to developing career longevity.

Rapid Fire Q&A with Suw

Q. What did you want to be when you grew up? How is it similar or different from where you are now?

A: I had two competing ambitions when I was a child: I wanted to be a Scientist and Discover Great Things, but I also wanted to be an Author and Write Great Things. I’ve always tried to combine the analytical with the creative, to some extent or another, because I find it hard to do one without the other. I’ve worked as a tech journalist, social media consultant, and now am self-publishing fiction.

But it hasn’t always easy to combine these two competing ambitions and, in retrospect, it’s a shame no one steered me towards science communications, which I think would have suited me down to the ground. But careers advice has largely been absent from my life, so I have pretty much made it up as I’ve gone along!

As for where I am now, well, social media didn’t exist when I was a child, and I never would have guessed just how much of a role in my life and career technology would play. I first learnt to program a computer when I was nine, when my dad got a ZX80, but I think I would have had to be a particularly perspicacious child to have foreseen the iPad or Twitter!

Q. What do you like about the industry you’re working in?

A: The amazing thing about working in social media and technology is that you can get to know the sharpest thinkers from around the world without having to spend hours on planes! Over the last ten years, I’ve been able to really develop my thinking through talking to colleagues abroad, particularly in America. The internet has made it possible to meet more people, make more connections and do more interesting work than would ever have been possible 15 years ago. It enables serendipity at an entirely new scale.

For example, because I’m a lapsed geologist, I followed the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 in great detail, amassing a huge number of links to news articles, blog posts, scientific papers, web cams, video and photos. That archive came to the attention of Chatham House, and they then commissioned me to research the way in which the media responded to the ash cloud crisis. I think that’s the only time that my degree and my career have fully intersected, and it really was a lovely moment!

Q. What or who is your motivation?

A: I am terminally curious, so I tend to be attracted to the shiny. That’s a mixed blessing, as sometimes it means that I can end up right on the cutting edge, but sometimes it can result in wild goose chases as well. Either way, it makes life interesting!

Q. How would you define success?

A: For me these days, success is about happiness and security, rather than hitting any particular sort of job or rung on the career ladder. Do I wake up each morning eager to get to work? Or do I hide under the duvet wishing I could just stay asleep?

It might sound trite, but happiness is a decision not a destination, and my choices now are all based on whether not a particular action will get me closer to my goals. It’s something I’m quite ruthless about, and it helps me avoid the aforementioned wild goose chases!

Q. What is your favourite quote?

A: I don’t really have a favourite quote, although I did stumble across this corker from Ada Lovelace herself which, I think, sums up how I often feel:

“I never am really satisfied that I understand anything; because, understand it well as I may, my comprehension can only be an infinitesimal fraction of all I want to understand.” 

You can find out more about Ada Lovelace Day at their official website and check out Suw Charman-Anderson at her official blog, Chocolate and Vodka.

Follow Suw on Twitter at @suw and support Ada Lovelace Day at @FindingAda.

Don’t forget…

S&L is hosting a Twitter Q&A with Suw!

Need advice? Or maybe you just have a question? Tweet us your questions for Suw at @SkirtsandLadder up until 21 October. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #SLSS! Suw will be answering these questions on Wednesday 24 October at 6pm BST.

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