Dr. Sue Black, OBE is a well-known British technology evangelist, digital skills expert, social entrepreneur, consultant and international keynote speaker with an amazing and inspiring story for girls and women in STEM. For our Women Who Inspire series, she spoke with Shefaly Yogendra in London.
Our interview with Sue:
Svaha: How did you first get interested in technology?
Sue: I always loved maths from as far back as I can remember - when I was five, I loved adding up all the pennies when I was playing shops at school, and that just carried on throughout my childhood. I loved mental arithmetic when I was a bit older, and math class at school was always my favourite. When I had to choose what degree to take at university I decided on computing technology, because I thought that tech was the future, and it contains lots of maths :)
You are a well-known technology evangelist. Your work has been of social and historical importance in the technology sector. How did your journey develop, and how did you decide to create all the wonderful things from BCS Women
to Saving Bletchley Park
I love solving problems and making the world a better place in whatever way I can. When I was getting my PhD in software engineering I didn't see many women at tech conferences, then I went to a conference that was for women in science and had an amazing time. That helped me to realise that I wasn't rubbish at chatting to people at conferences which is what I had previously thought, but just not in an environment that made it easy for me to interact with the other people that were at the conference. After attending the Women in Science conference and having an amazing time with so many like-minded women I wanted to set something up that would give that experience to other women in tech that I met. So I set up BCSWomen
, a group for women in computing as part of the British Computer Society.
Reperesenting BCSWomen led me to a meeting at Bletchley Park in 2003, the place where more than 10,000 people worked during World War II breaking the codes. I found out that more than 8000 women had worked there, so I raised funding to record their memories and promote their contribution to the war effort. At the launch of that programme I found out that Bletchley Park itself may have to close due to lack of funding. I then started a campaign to save it.
First, I emailed all the heads and professors of computing in the UK asking them to sign an online petition, and then to sign a letter to The Times
newspaper, both asking the UK government to save Bletchley Park. I contacted all the journalists that I knew asking for help to raise awareness of Bletchley Park's plight. The BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones got in touch and interviewed me on BBC News
- the report was broadcast on news programmes around the world!
I got lots of people emailing me, interested in Bletchley Park, but no offers of funding. I spoke to everyone that I met about Bletchley Park asking them to help. Then in December 2008, I started using Twitter
and realised quite quickly that it would be a good way of finding people that cared about Bletchley Park and also growing a community. I got celebrities involved and grew the campaign for over 3 years. In 2011, the director of Bletchley Park announced that bletchley Park was saved :)
I've now written a book about Bletchley Park and the campaign called Saving Bletchley Park
which has been a great success, 64 five star reviews on Amazon UK
Svaha: This is so inspiring! You persisted. What are the toughest challenges that you overcame in your journey?
Sue: My mum dying when I was 12 is probably the hardest thing I've ever had to cope with, then becoming a single parent at 24 when my older children were 3, 1 and 1. They were really difficult times. On the positive side, overcoming those challenges or at least coming to terms with them and coping with them has made me a stronger person and shown me that I can overcome adversity and turn things around. Having difficult experiences when I was young was hard, but nothing scares me now.
Svaha: For our American readers, could you please tell us a bit more about your OBE?
I was awarded an OBE for 'Services to Technology' in 2016. An OBE - Officer of the most Excellent Order of the British Empire - is an award made by the Queen to individuals who have gone above and beyond to make something good happen in the UK.
Svaha: You have accomplished so much. What's next for you?
I'm currently writing the Pelican Guide to Coding
for Penguin, and working with hundreds of young mums in the UK teaching them tech skills to empower them and their families. Young mums can have a difficult time in our society, but they are doing such an incredible job raising the next generation - they need all of our love and support and encouragement to have fulfilled and successful lives.
Svaha: You are a mother and a grandmother. What advice would you give for our young readers, who are interested in science and maths, and their parents and grandparents?
Sue: Follow your passion and don't give up! We have to learn all sorts of things at school, which is good because it gives us a general understanding of the world and how it works. That's great and necessary, but what helps you to stand out is following, researching, getting to grips with and becoming an expert in something that you love and care about. I love the way that tech skills can help us all lead more interesting, happier, successful lives, so everything I do revolves around that in some way. What is your passion, your child's passion, or your grandchild's passion? Encouragement and support are so critical to anyone achieving success along with access to knowledge and understanding. Investigate together, learn together, have fun together - STEM is an amazing area, go explore together!
We thank you, Sue, for speaking with us, on behalf of the readers of SvahaUSA
, who are mostly young girls and boys interested in STEM and whose parents want to encourage them as well as champion a scientific temper. We can't wait for your Pelican guide to coding, and to see your pictures from the Grace Hopper Conference