When I pledged to do a blog post for Ada Lovelace Day, I thought I would be going to Saudi Arabia for an e-learning conference. I thought's I'd be meeting lots of Saudi women working in technology-related jobs, and that I would blog about them. Great idea; never happened (see here and here and here for what happened).
I did have a back-up plan as well. In fact I was so keen on it that I would probably have done both blog posts in any case.
Well, I'm going to get in trouble for this, because my tech heroine is a modest and private person, and doesn’t enjoy a “showin’ up” as we say in Glasgow. She’s from Lewis, and they don’t get big heads about things, or brag. Honest, moral, loyal and hardworking. Stereotypes, maybe, but there’s a thread of truth of that in all the people I know from the Islands.
Lorna M. Campbell, please stand up!
Lorna has worked as Assistant Director of JISC CETIS for some years now, in fact she was one of the founders of CETIS, back when it was a wee project made up of people wanting to instil an open standards mentality in e-learning in the UK.
Lorna is younger than me which has always irked me: when and where did she find the energy and wisdom to be such a fine mentor and supporter?
Lorna is different from me: she doesn't shout and stomp about feminism, or indeed anything, the way I do. We’ve had a few tense discussions on correct use of grammar and punctuation in official reports. But such is the force of her right-ness that I now use two spaces after a full-stop, having never done that in my life before meeting her.
Lorna kicks ass.
I honestly think she is the greatest unsung heroine in the UK educational technology world. So much wouldn't happen without her: she oils the wheels, she nudges things subtly in the right direction, with the right word in the right ear at the right moment. She knows what to say, and how, and when, and what not to say.
When she was away on maternity leave, things started to go to rack and ruin. I can’t really cite anything definite here, just an impression. But thank all of our lucky stars, she came back.
I was 34 when we met so she must've been, what, 31, 32? She (along with Charles Duncan and Allison Littlejohn) hired me to do a small bit of work on the SeSDL project, one of the earliest attempts to create a learning object repository (I think it was 1999 or 2000?).
She scared me then. But I've always found that my most enduring friendships and working relationships with other women start with me being slightly intimidated. I don’t intimidate easily, so I think it’s always my unconscious acknowledgement that here is someone who is at the very least a match for me. In this case, more than a match. Yet she makes it very easy to submit to her general superiority in every area, even for an egotistical brat like me.
Specifically, she scared me because she was assertive and professional and she said lots of technical stuff that I didn't understand. I didn't of course admit that I'd never heard the word "taxonomy" in an information management context before. I certainly didn't admit I'd never heard the word “pedagogy” at all, because that seemed to be awfully important to their project.
I did at least use my librarian skills to gloss over my ignorance and go and look these things up before they found out.
I was also intimidated by the fact that Lorna was pierced and tattooed and dressed so well. I wanted to be cool enough to impress her.
I was shocked that her project team thought a "taxonomy" could be an adequate substitute for a "librarian". That was the beginning of a discussion that is ongoing.
Later, she gave me the job that started me on the career road I’m on now. As far as I can tell, neither Lorna nor myself ever planned for or anticipated a career at all. We just ended up in the same place doing the same thing. I remember that the job of CETIS EC SIG Co-ordinator was the first job I ever had that I was terrified of. The combination of her belief in me (in spite of me being, like, her eighth choice for the role or something) and her open insistence that I not embarrass her (or maybe that was another project) exemplified a combination of support and terror that works very well for her. I’m sure there must be some theory of learning about that.
Lorna taught me how to deal with the range of personalities you get in any technical field: most of them male. For quite a long time, when I was confounded, or wanted to run from the room in tears or burst out in anger, I would simply try to behave like I thought Lorna would. Note please that I often failed so please don’t think any outbursts you may have seen on my part are in any way modelled on Lorna.
Anyway, there’s always been time for a debrief with the girls later, after something bad or annoying happens.
Which brings me to one important thing thing that makes Lorna shine, for me: she genuinely supports other women in the field, hires them, makes sure their talents are used and developed and their voices heard. She does it unobtrusively, as if it's the most natural thing in the world, and certainly not to the detriment of any worthy men who may be around. She has modelled for me how to survive, and even thrive, professionally in shark-infested waters.
She is a good friend, and has an intelligence that is subtle and broad-ranging and deep, and a willingness to learn and grow as well. She makes people feel good about themselves without ever indulging in false flattery or untruths (anathema to an Islander). And oh lord is she funny and cutting when there’s a need.