I had the honor of sitting next to Fran Allen on the shuttle to the airport at 6 am this morning. (Wow–the Turing Award winner opts for the shared shuttle.) I asked if there is particular work she is excited about in the coming year. Allen said she will be speaking a lot about the current crisis in computing, which she described as probably the largest computing crisis we’ve ever faced, but one that she believes can be addressed by her field. (Shame on me–I didn’t ask what the crisis is, thinking she would tell me if she wanted to discuss it further at 6 am on the way to the airport, but looking back, I’m guessing she would have been happy to discuss it… Ironic, given how struck I was that she reminded me of my mother-in-law, an incisive reporter who no doubt would have asked.) After a bit of googling, I think Allen was referring to energy crises and power consumption of high-performance computers–and the potentials for parallel computing and optimization to address these problems. Regarding the topic of the conference we were departing, she seemed optimistic about engaging women in the field of computing, calling that problem “the easy one.” She joked about how she would prefer not to focus on being the first woman to win the award, and rather to focus on her work. She said her friends at ACM laughed at the possibility of leaving that out of the conversation. We sat with another woman from IBM, who does mentors many IBMers in her work. Both she and Allen spoke about the need to have discussions about gender and cultural differences–to put the issues on the table–in the workplace and in academia, and that not having such discussions remains a serious problem.
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