September 30, 2020

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You don’t have to go far to find some of the brightest minds in science and technology – that is, if you’re in Kitchener-Waterloo. But sometimes, it can seem like these minds disproportionately represent a particular gender.

On Oct. 15, tech groups in Waterloo Region came together in the Victoria Park pavilion to share, discuss and discover what women have contributed to these fields.

It was the first-ever official Canadian observance of Ada Lovelace Day. Organized by Charlotte Armstrong and director Stephanie Rozek of technology literacy venture Hackademy.ca, it is a celebration of the contributions of all women to the so called “STEM fields:” science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Too often, Armstrong says, women have been discouraged from joining STEM fields, or else just haven’t considered them as valid options for someone who also wants a family.

“They didn’t want to have a career in it, because they felt that it was anti-social and it didn’t help anyone… but you can live all the dreams you want to, and have a career as well,” Armstron g said.

The event featured a number of high-profile speakers who spoke about Ada Lovelace, about women and their role in technology, or about their own personal experiences as women in the STEM fields. Carolyn Augusta was one of those speakers. She humourously related her own struggles with mathematics that eventually ended up with her earning a degree in that field. Augusta defended the use of Lovelace as the day’s symbol, saying her contribution was key in an incredibly important field.

“Ada Lovelace is widely regarded to be the first woman in computer science… Lovelace helped make computing happen the way we see it today,” Augusta said.

Lovelace was the only legitimate daughter of famed English poet Lord Byron. In 1843, she published notes about a computing device, created by polymath Charles Babbage, called the Analytical Engine. The notes included a formula for what is now widely considered the first computer program.

Also featured at the event were numerous local tech groups who set up booths and displays, filling the hall with the sounds of passionate conversationas well as the delight of young discovery. Kwartzlab , a Kitchener based community workshop, had a 3D printer on display. Guelph group Diyode brought and assembled a harmonograph, which uses physics to create unique, patterned images. Nerd Nite KW’s booth let attendees try the Oculus Rift, a next-generation display device that is worn on the user’s face like a set of goggles. And Hackademy.ca representatives, who organized the event, discussed technological literacy, which they believe is “the new literacy for the digital age.”

Despite being during Oktoberfest, one of the region’s largest events, the event experienced a strong turnout that included many young people. When asked about the success of the format, Charlotte Armstrong, community outreach coordinator for Hackademy.ca, said she liked how their plan for the event worked.

“I want to have presentations for adults to listen to, and then have areas where kids can explore… and young adults and adults can explore as well,” Armstrong said Rozek agreed, saying that the hands-on nature of the displays was one of the reasons they were able to reach such a large and varied audience. “I think it’s the curiosity. People say, ‘What is that?’… and it’s something really cool, and they want to know what it is.”