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Ada Lovelace Day: Justine Cassell and why I fell in love with Computer Science

Ada Lovelace Day is an event to raise the profile of women in STEM fields. It’s a glorious 50 hour event (from when the day starts to ends across the globe). Read more stories here.

I thought I’d be a banker. Or a management type. Or just, you know, an inventor, mad scientist, writer, artist … er, I had many ideas.

I was a classic liberal arts overachiever. I covered my bases, got involved in the right groups, made sure to keep some around that I was passionate about. I studied CS partially because I heard it could help you get into law school (not joking, logic and all that). Then, a mere three months before I was set to graduate (early, thank you), I attended a celebration of women in computing*.

Some of my friends were in the Women in CS group; I was a board member myself since there weren’t so many of us. We got some sponsorship to attend a regional event, I even spoke about my work at an internship organizing and aggregating stimulus data.

Justine Cassell spoke at that event. And her research blew. my. mind.

You see, Justine Cassell made virtual humans. (!!??)

Cassell and her team then used these humans to help children (!!!!????!!!!!)

… autistic children (!!!!!!!!!!!!!????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

learn to interact so that they can more easily integrate into society’s expectations of how they should interact, and thus succeed more later in life.

Here’s an article about it. And some of their research.

Despite the best intentions of my CS professors, I hadn’t yet realized how software can change our world, can make things better, can solve problems.

And that’s pretty much how Justine Cassell convinced me to stop taking the bank interviews and start looking at IT positions. The next day. She’s a great researcher and innovator  — the way she talked about being interdisciplinary and doing what she needed to do really spoke to me. It’s that kind of drive that solves problems. If I can do that? Well, hopefully I’ll be in one of these blog posts one day 😉

* GHC is a very large celebration of women in computing, but there are also smaller regional events. If you can attend one, I highly recommend it!

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