Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

24 Mar

How could I not sign up for Ada Lovelace Blog Day? This celebration of women in technology honors a woman who was, by some accounts, the first computer programmer:

She is mainly known for having written a description of Charles Babbage‘s early mechanical general-purpose computer, the analytical engine. She is today appreciated as the “first programmer” since she was writing programs—that is, manipulating symbols according to rules—for a machine that Babbage had not yet built. She also foresaw the capability of computers to go beyond mere calculating or number-crunching while others, including Babbage himself, focused only on these capabilities.[1]

I’ve also seen her called the founder of scientific computing…so hey, that means I can thank her for the very existence of my day job!

So I set about looking for women in the Disney company who had made significant technical contributions. Just for a little background here, I was looking for engineers, computer programmers, technicians, and others whose work is primarily technical, or has arrived at their managerial position through a technical track. I did some research on the web, thought back through the books I’ve read, and asked my readers for nominations. I contacted a fellow blogger with deep knowledge of Disney history.

Well, let’s just say that my research would indicate that there is still plenty of room for growth! While women have certainly played prominent roles in Disney arts and design (Mary Blair, for example), and in management (Meg Crofton and Cynthia Harriss both come to mind), it’s hard to find women among the technology leaders.

But there’s also progress. It is with great pleasure that I read about Darla Anderson, who Variety calls the “only woman in Pixar’s so-called ‘brain trust.”

The producer of “Monsters, Inc.” and “Cars” first got interested in CG animation in the ’80s while working on commercial production in Southern California. She was, she admits, the “only girl” at then-tiny computer animation festival Siggraph in the early ’90s when she first saw some of the short-form work of Pixar co-founder John Lasseter. Soon after, she decamped to Emeryville to take over Pixar’s commercial division.

While working on spots for Listerine and Coca-Cola, Anderson and her staff got roped into helping with the risky project that was taking up most of the rest of the staff’s time in the small office: “Toy Story.”

Now, this is a geek girl I can identify with. And she’s not alone….the dre poetic blog has a summary of a panel discussion featuring several women behind-the-scenes at Pixar, which is great reading for anybody interested in the company.

I’m sure there are other fabulous technical women working behind the scenes at Disney…..so I throw the challenge open again to my readers. Whether it’s a high-level executive that I’ve missed somehow, or a top-notch new engineer at Imagineering, what women do you know who have made significant technical contributions to the Disney company?

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