For Ada Lovelace Day, I chose to write about a few women in technology who have personally influenced the course of my work.
The first is Amy Zwarico, a former professor at Johns Hopkins, and a Ph.D. from Penn. I met Prof. Zwarico my first year of college, when she taught a course based on Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs by Abelson & Sussman. This book is mind-blowing for many young computer scientists, particularly those who enter college with some programming skills and think they know everything already. Amy guided me expertly through that transition, from arrogant git to beginner's mind. (The route back to credentialed arrogant git is a story for another day.)
Amy's advanced course in programming language theory crystallized my research interests for at least a dozen years, through my Ph.D. and beyond. She supported me in a wide-ranging independent study of concurrency, model checking, and the ML programming language (which I disrespect sometimes nowadays, but I do it out of love).
I think I see Amy's influence in my style too. One year, a grad student sent a wonderful thank you note at the end of a semester, saying that I “carry that lazy elegance, as they say back in India.” Although this isn't an expression in my culture, I recognized what he meant at once, because I know its source. Amy Zwarico was my first mentor in higher education, and I'm grateful to have connected with her.
I could end there, but I feel compelled to add a few honorable mentions, maybe because 1992 seems impossibly distant now. Throughout my research, lots of the most influential works I encountered were authored and/or propelled by women. Underrepresented among computer science faculty, perhaps, but not, it seemed, in my bibliography. In particular, I'll mention Kathleen Fisher, Sophia Drossopoulou, and Adriana Compagnoni – all excellent, prolific researchers whose interests overlap mine considerably.
One more honorable mention, with regard to the next generation (and in recognition that esoteric research is not the only way to contribute to the world). Sacha Chua is a thoughtful and spirited young woman from the Philippines, who first came to my attention as an Emacs hacker. Sacha's web presence is full of sincere inquiry and advice on productivity, teaching, coding, and on using technology to connect people. An awesome life indeed, rock on!