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Women in Technology: Adria Richards 
24th-Mar-2009 08:20 am
webcomics, science
When I signed up in January to blog about a woman in technology I admired for Ada Lovelace day, I took on a significant challenge for myself; see, all my friends and heroes and people I know enough about to blog about are scientists, not techicians, and blurring the lines would be cheating. So I resolved to keep my eyes and ears open for a woman in technology between then and now. And as March hit, I began to get a little worried, until my favourite American news and politics source Rachel Maddow came to the rescue. In an ongoing election dispute in Minnesota for a US senate seat, outgoing senator Norm Coleman damaged his ongoing campaign just a little when a database containing the "names, addresses, email addresses and passwords" of 51,000 of his donors - as well as the credit card details of 4,700 of them - was publicly exposed on his website.


My Ada Lovelace radar went off when Rachel brought onto her show one of the first people to discover the exposed database, Adria Richards, "Organic techology consultant, creator of AskAdria.com, and text-blogger at But You're a Girl. And with a blog title like that, how could I resist?

Details of how she found the database ad exposed its existence (not its contents) are recorded on that fantastically named blog, and she explains on YouTube:

Adria says on her website:
Being a female computer consultant in a male dominated industry provides a unique advantage. Adria is able to make technology easy for her clients because she takes the time to listen and understand their needs. She is an excellent translator of Geek Speak".

I love girl geeks  - unsurprising given my identification as one  - but especially when we recognise ourselves for what we are. We're women in a man's world, and we come up against all sorts of prejudice. In my mother's generation (and I feel a little guilty that I'm not talking about my Baby Boomer IT consultant life long learner mother two days after Mothers' Day) it seems the thing to do to forge a path was to play the boys' game in heels and lipstick; but Adria represents my generation of women who refuse to compromise womanhood or have someone else define what it means for us. Being a woman is both a blessing and a curse, although it should be neither, that's not exactly likely to change. So Adria exploits it with her blog title, takes it seriously and lightly at the same time.

What strikes me about how she found Coleman's database is how representative of the Web 2.0 culture it is: she heard on Twitter there was a problem, so she set herself about fiddling and tinkering to identify the problem. That's the beauty of the modern 'net, and a perfect example of Linus' Law:
given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow

With the modern internet, represented today by Twitter, the number of potential eyeballs is infinite. It was given that someone would find the database, in this case it was Adria Richards, who had the technical knowhow and the interest to have a poke.

One of the things I judge people on when visiting their blog is their links list  - it's like looking at someone's friends and communities on Livejournal but even more selective - and Adria links to both Zenhabits  - a blog of tips for bringing zen philosophy into ones daily life, and Adult ADD strengths - dedicated to living positively through ADD. I'm aware there's a danger in reading too much into someone's links list, but what she describes in checking Coleman's site is very familiar to me with how my own brain works. I see a thing, I think "I wonder if...", I investigate and I poke at things until I find something interesting. And Adria did; she exposed a very serious security breach and brought it to the attention of the media (and met one of my big celebrity crushes).

So that's it. Not a historical biography. Not a massive fan crush post, because she's only just blipped on to my radar, but a real woman in technology whom I admire, because she's applied her apparently fantastic brain to something that interests her, and quite accidentally done something important. And I love it when that happens.

See more Ada Lovelace Day posts
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