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my mother, the programmer

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I mentioned in my mum couldn’t use that that my mother is a computer programmer, so given the close proximity of Mothers’ Day (in the UK at least) and Ada Lovelace day (in the blogging world) it seemed appropriate to blog about Mum.

Mum studied physics at Kings College in the late 1960s. She doesn’t remember that choice being particularly controversial at her all-girls convent school. Nor was Grandad fussed by it. My aunt was already at Kings, also studying physics so Mum’s choices were rather ordinary for the family. Both sisters were very much in the female minority but they seemed to enjoy their status (they also met their future husbands on their courses).

My aunt left Kings and went to work at Jodrell Bank,  a job I am still insanely jealous of. Mum became a physics teacher and later a computer programmer.

Mum has been a huge influence on me. She made a technical career seem perfectly normal,  and left me rather oblivious to any prejudice. As a result I am a rather poor feminist. I feel rather more constrained by looking much younger than I am, and by being an introvert. I struggle to think of any situations where I have experienced sexism. At least from the men…

Written by Karen

March 24th, 2009 at 5:25 am

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a rather poor feminist

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I was surprised by my female colleagues reaction when I not only married but became Mrs Loasby. They were horrifed that I would “take the man’s name”. As my other surname came from my dad the objection seemed ill-thought through.

At least I’d chosen my husband and chosen to take his name. I never had any say in Harvey. Even more bizarrely they seemed to accept my decision when I mentioned that I would be the only ‘Karen Loasby’ in Google. Patriachy,  it seems, is ok if it enhances your brand!

Recent news also attacked  the Mrs title. Only very close friends and utility companies address me as Mrs Loasby. I don’t actively use Mrs and I’m baffled by a colleague who puts (Mrs) after her name in her email signature but I’m not concerned by the (empty) symbolism.

This doesn’t mean I’m in favour of sexism. I’m outraged that my grandmothers were held back by society. One was a civil servant and one a matron. Both were more educated and could earn more than their husbands but their careers were constrained by the attitudes of my great-grandparents,  one of my grandfathers and by the civil service. But their world seems utterly alien to me.

I never experienced any prejudice at school. The teachers were outraged when I didn’t study Physics at university. It was a similar non-issue at university.

At work my best  bosses have been women but I’ve had two awful female bosses too. Jen Rigby, Margaret Hanley, Julia Whitney and Helen Davies have all helped me greatly. This might just be a sympton that the BBC and RNIB don’t  discrimate against women.At the moment my boss is female, the head of IT is female and the CEO is female. This is my normality.

I suspect this is my mum’s fault. She was both inspiration and insulation and deserves a post of her own.

Written by Karen

March 24th, 2009 at 5:22 am

Posted in family,work

working with my sister

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It is a little strange working for the same company as my big sister, Catherine.

The RNIB is a small enough organisation that,  in-spite of her working in a completely different part of the country, many of my colleagues in London know my sister. They say we look alike. They also say she’s told them all my secrets.

I’ve already had to go to the Leeds office for a meeting so got to stay with Cath and see her in her professional guise. All her colleagues said we look alike too.

I know we’re the same size but I’m not convinced we’re that identi-kit. She does like purple too though.

Written by Karen

November 5th, 2008 at 6:53 am

Posted in family,rnib

my mum couldn’t use that

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One of the goals of personas is to challenge stereotypes and preconceptions. This worked nicely when we were working on persona creation for the redesign of bbc.co.uk.
The personas were all based on research from our audience research team but the team was questioning the pensioner profiles for using too much technology, complaining that “my gran is nothing like that”. This is when you have to point out that the pensioners AR were talking about were 65. That makes them most of my colleagues’ parents not our grandparents. And reminds us all we’re getting old.

The research was nicely validated by an interview we did a few weeks later with a recently retired librarian. She was using digital television (including catch-up TV), mobile phone (texting and taking photos), digital radio, PC (internet & email), digital camera & skype with a web-cam. She’s wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about technology but was heavily influenced by her children and her need to stay in touch with family elsewhere in the world.

But even when we’ve recalibrated our understanding of who pensioners are….it is still a common cliche to hear web workers challenge something complex in a product on the grounds that “my mum couldn’t use that”.

Now my mum and dad are retired computer programmers. They’re seriously old school. When I was a kid I played with abandoned punch-cards and that green bar printout paper. Dinner time conversations involved mainframes and COBOL. I thought this was all normal for grown-ups.

Given how extraordinarily geeky you needed to be in early days to get into programming, they’re probably more technically able than many of today’s geeks. So my mum could almost certainly use that. If she wanted to.

Now my sister… she thinks the rest of us Harvey’s are weird. She’s a much better touchstone for the real world.

Written by Karen

June 2nd, 2008 at 11:03 am

Posted in bbc,family,past,ucd