To celebrate Ada Lovelace day, and the importance of women in technology, I’d like to introduce you to Sue Schofield. Sue is a journalist and author who was writing about hooking computers up to telephone lines when I was still in short trousers. You could, perhaps, call her the mother of the UK Internet (in fact, I just did).
In 1994 she wrote “The UK Internet Book”. And, yes, it was: The UK Internet book. Until then, all our Internet advice had come from Americans who had a rather different Internet infrastructure from the UK (and no need for BT-approved modems). In those days, we had very few ISPs (in fact, there was only one real UK ISP – the fledgeling Demon Internet – although other “online service providers” such as CompuServe offered small windows onto the Internet). Sue’s book was exhaustive, informative (although the section on gopher was wasted on me) and, unlike the books coming out of the USA, it had a wry English sense of humour.
It also came with a voucher offering a month’s free membership of Demon Internet. So I abandoned my CompuServe training wheels and set off into the world of ftp, nntp, smtp, archie and, yes, gopher. Without Sue Schofield, it would have taken me another year or two to get to grips with the Internet. And so she bears some responsibility for the fact that, in 1995, I started working for one of the UK’s fledgeling web agencies, starting a thrilling and eventful career which has led up to my current work on the iPlayer.
By 2002, when I’d all but forgotten the name Sue Schofield, my friend Phil Franks introduced me to “the girl who left those wacky entries on my guestbook about me being Elton John’s dad”. The name on the email headers looked familiar and… it can’t be… it was! I found myself bantering with the very same Sue Schofield who had hooked me up at 14,000 baud all those years earlier. And thus started a three-way email conversation which lasted several years. (In real life and in private emails, Sue’s peculiar brand of gonzo-tech-journalism is even wittier and more beautiful than in print).
So here’s to Sue, tech journalist extraordinaire, 30 years in the industry and still going strong. It’s highly appropriate that she’s writing for The Guardian today, on the subject of women in technology.
While we’re on the subject of women in technology, I’d like to extend the high-fives to two of my colleagues at the BBC who have made, and continue to make, huge contributions to the iPlayer project: Gemma Garmeson and Marina Kalkanis.