Computer Science Legend Dr. Sue Black On Careers, Recharging, And More

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But she is seeing some progress. “In the late 1990s, when I said I wanted to create a women’s-only membership group for the tech sector, businesses asked me why I wanted to ghettoize myself,” Black recalls. “You wouldn’t hear that now.”

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Her message for business leaders is that they need to also “walk the talk.” Black is realistic. She understands that for-profit businesses prioritize commercial concerns over moral and ethical ones, and so the case for hiring women and nurturing their careers needs to be made at a financial level, too. She offers the seemingly random example of a supermarket self-checkout to explain how things can go wrong.

“I just can’t believe it was a very diverse team who worked on that,” she says. “Any parent shopping with children will tell you the experience isn’t great…having to wait for an attendant because something won’t scan properly or an item needs special permission. Then think about how much that delay costs the supermarket, in other customers waiting, and extra staff cost.”

Now scale up supermarket self-checkout to the software that runs the world, Black says. “It’s the same principle for creating the perfect shopping experience as writing the perfect line of code: the more diverse your team, the more insights and perspectives you get, more of the right questions will be asked, design flaws spotted, and you end up with a better and more profitable solution.”

But a roomful of developers is waiting for Black to walk in and unload a little end-of-day inspiration. And the message she’s going to leave them all with? “If you do nothing unexpected, nothing unexpected happens,” she says. “And who wants a life like that?”

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