Celebrate Ada Lovelace Day with the women of Dexibit

Guest blog with Dexibit Chief Executive Angie Judge

In the early 1800s, Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace and an English mathematician, published the first algorithm intended to be performed by a computing machine called the ‘Analytical Engine’. Despite the fact her father was disappointed Ada was born a girl – cue eye roll – more than a hundred and fifty years after her death, her contribution to the world of technology is remembered on the second Tuesday of each October, known as ‘Ada Lovelace’ day – a day dedicated to celebrating women in Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

At Dexibit this Ada Lovelace day, we’re celebrating our own incredible women and their contribution to technology. I often share my career journey with young girls contemplating a future in STEM. I remember asking to study computers at high school and being given a secretarial typing course instead. I remember enrolling in software engineering at university as one of only a couple of women in a class of nearly a hundred. Later in my corporate career, I remember time after time finding myself the lone woman in a roomful of suits.

But these days, I’m fortunate to be surrounded by talented people in a company with great diversity – including the fact that half of us are women – spread across all departments and levels. Sadly, we’re a rarity in the tech sector and that’s something I want to change. So to inspire the next generation of young women into STEM careers, here’s the amazing stories of some of the women I have the honor to work with, the women that inspire them and the advice they have for their 16 year old selves.

Radhika Poduval, a Data Scientist at Dexibit, was one of those kids who wanted to know how everything worked, including how people think. “I guess you could say I’ve always collected data!” she tells me. After finishing a degree in Economics, Radhika worked as a business analyst, but always knew her passion lay in helping people and telling stories with data. “I began researching if I could switch to a role more directly related to these two areas and realized data science was a perfect fit.” Radhika launched into a professional studies Masters with a data science specialization, great grounding for her work predicting visitor behavior at Dexibit. “I fell in love with coding. Being part of a cross functional tech and data team is even more exciting. I adore the challenge and creativity that comes with machine learning.” If Radhika could sit down with herself at sixteen? “I’d tell myself: ‘No woman is an island.’ Let your loved ones support you. Give them permission to tell you the truth (especially when it hurts). More importantly, do the same for them.” Marie Curie is her idol. “She was the first woman to win a Nobel prize for her work in radioactivity, the first woman in France to earn a PhD in physics, the first female professor at Sorbonne. A Polish immigrant at a time when many people thought a woman had no place in science, her undaunted pursuit of her passions is a shining example of everything we celebrate on Ada Lovelace Day.”

Chair of the Board Dana McKenzie’s journey into technology started in 1991 with a computer science degree at the University of Bucharest. These were early days for computer science and Dana credits her high school teacher for making math fun. “The pull towards computer science was fuelled by my love of mathematics – seeing 0s and 1s going places in fascinating ways inside machines that read them through code”. Minoring in artificial intelligence in its very early days, her work mostly focused on voice recognition, her thesis exploring a central Game Theory win – win concept called ‘Nash Equilibrium’. This work was pivotal to her professional experience later on. “It gave me a desire to seek a balance across interrelating components in ecosystems – aka humans!” Dana’s first job was as a programmer in air traffic control. “Those 0s and 1s constructed minuscule dots on screen. Each represented a plane with many lives onboard. This was no longer school work and the magnitude of the job was startling, giving me deep respect for the profession and the importance of meticulous testing.” Dana’s corporate career grew in the US before taking her to Europe, where she worked in software, hardware, utilities, process management and biotechnology, from startups going public and state owned enterprises. “The most fulfilling roles were those in which involved commercialising innovation in the marketplace.” Today, Dana is an active angel investor and director, leveraging her corporate knowledge into high growth companies. Her advice to her 16 year old self is to seek out mentors proactively. “Trust your intuition. And sit in the front row.” Dana greatly admires Iraqi British architect Zaha Hadid, the first woman to receive the Pritzker Prize. “I admire her inventive and uninhibited use of geometry and new materials science in challenging the norms of architectural landmarks”, she says.

Mira Tzankov is a Visualization Engineer at Dexibit, digging for golden insights buried in the data of visitor attractions and creating beautiful new ways for our users to explore these. Mira has always had a fascination with computers and how they work their magic. Once she figured out that people – developers – were behind this, she instantly wanted to be one. “I had no idea where to start and I didn’t see anyone who looked like me doing this. Women in technical roles were becoming more visible but it still took a lot of effort to see how I could fit into the industry and convince myself that this is where I belong”. Mira started out by learning HMTL, CSS and javascript at high school, going on to study engineering at university. “I doubted myself, leaving my options open with engineering, so I could choose another specialization. Ultimately, it came down to the realization that coding is what I want to do with my life. Therefore, I must belong. I won’t let anyone tell me otherwise.” A few years later, Mira joined the Dexibit team – originally as an intern, before officially converting her role after graduating with honors. “The advice I have for my 16 year old self? ‘Don’t be afraid to take up space’. If I had followed this advice, I would have focussed more on the pursuit of my goals rather than worrying if I am good enough”, she says. “My idol is Mahsa Mohaghegh – her work with She# has had a direct impact on me, helping me gain confidence to achieve my goals. One day, I want to have contributed as much as she has to women in tech.”

These days, Sarah Stone leads onboarding management and customer success at Dexibit. But she started out by studying fine art, one of her great loves, before transitioning to physics to satisfy an innate curiosity in understanding how things work. “I get obsessed with solving problems and technology is a natural conduit for that”, Sarah says. For Sarah, one of the best parts of her career is learning from others. “I’ve had the opportunity to meet very interesting people in UX, engineering and project management and had no shame in peppering them with questions.” Working with the digital team at MoMA gave Sarah the opportunity to witness the secret lives of developers in a museum context, opening her eyes to the world of technology and idols like Allison Esposito, founder of Tech Ladies. Ultimately, it fuelled a move to Dexibit to pursue a career at the crossroads of culture and tech. Sarah would encourage her 16 year old self to celebrate that career path, not shy away from it. “Don’t be ashamed of a circuitous career path”, she says. “But don’t settle for mediocre either.”

Enterprise Account Executive Lauren Lynch studied medicine before pivoting into the arts and then making the leap into technology. “Very few products have the capability to alter the way people work, interact and learn in such a short time” she says, of the decision to join Dexibit to make her mark in the visitor attractions industry. “I was intrigued by the opportunity to connect with a wave of people, in a new dimension – ours is bold terrain waiting to be explored.” Lauren remains loyal to her original idol Oprah Winfrey “But I am quite keen on Gwyneth and her ‘Goopness’ these days!”. “To the 16 year old me,” Lauren says, “Don’t take everything so seriously. You’re best when you’re relaxed and open. Also, stop wearing headbands that match your earrings!”

Alex Garkavenko, Dexibit’s VP Product, fell into tech through a non linear path spanning architecture , editorial and curatorial work before sinking her teeth into technology. “The eclectic mix that is my background is why I love to wear my product hat. Through my career, I came to realise that the tech industry had enormous potential to act upon some of those big ideas that float in the world I love as a designer.” If she could talk to her junior self, Alex would encourage her to not box herself into a category or label. “Some of the most inspiring women for me are those that let themselves shine through divergent talents: people like Hedy Lamarr, who helped invent WiFi but was also a Hollywood legend, or the contemporary Merritt Moore, who is a quantum physicist and professional ballerina.” Talking of idols though, Alex can’t emphasise enough how important her mother was in her own journey “Not only is she a brilliant scientist, but an incredibly creative thinker. I don’t think these two are mutually exclusive. Her open minded nature has influenced my own career exploration.”

Speaking of idols, mine is Katherine Johnson, a mathematician at NASA who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work in the space program, celebrated in the film Hidden Figures (played by Taraji Henson). I had the honor of signing her 100th birthday card at NASA’s Mission Control in Houston a couple of months ago. Her advice to those wanting to follow in her footsteps seems fitting for my 16 year old self: “Like what you do and then you will do your best”.

Love data and dinosaurs? Join us in Auckland, NZ or Washington, DC. Find out more at careers.dexibit.com.