Ada Day 2014

Happy Ada Lovelace Day. It’s one of my favorite celebrations of the year, a day to celebrate the contribution of women in science, technology, engineering, and math. It’s a good day to say thanks to the many women who’ve guided and inspired us in these areas. Granted, every day is a good day to do that, but nevertheless, here is Ada Day.

Deborah Estrin is one of my heroes in this area. She currently  is a professor of computer science at Cornell’s New York City campus, and co-founder of Open mHealth, a not-for-profit foundation focused on applications of mobile and networked computing for better health management. I first met Deborah when she was at UCLA, where she was the founding director of the Center for Embedded Networked Sensing, which focused on using wireless sensing systems to collect and analyze data about the physical world and the activities of people therein.

Deborah’s CV speaks to her brilliance and her achievements,  but what impresses me most is her way with her collaborators. She has an ability to simultaneously listen deeply to details, yet see the larger context of any idea immediately. She’s very fast and direct in her responses, challenging without being adversarial. She does not accept lazy thinking from her collaborators, yet she never makes anyone feel stupid. And she has a  sense of humor about her work that reminds you that in the end, if you’re not making people’s lives better, you might as well do something else.  She’s an example of what scientific leaders should be. I’ve learned a lot from my interactions with her, both about research and about teaching.  Thanks, Deborah.

(and if you want to see her in action, here’s a TEDMed talk she gave on mHealth).

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