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Dame Stephanie Shirley CH

I am thrilled to be identified as one of the top heroes of computer science.Thank you again for the honour your staff and postgrads have afforded me.

Dame Stephanie Shirley CH is a Companion of Honour and much respected for her disruptive contributions to computer science. She arrived in Britain as a five year old unaccompanied refugee on the Kindertransport and began work at age 18 as a scientific assistant. After six years going to evening classes she got an Upper Second honours maths degree from London University.

She worked on two of the first three transatlantic telephone cables, the first electronic telephone exchange at Highgate Woods, and the premium bond computer ERNIE. It was ERNIE that took her into the nascent computing industry, which in its early days required mathematics.

Dame Stephanie was one of the first to focus on the social aspects of computing and in 1962 founded a revolutionary software house initially employing women working in their own home – a forerunner of the gig economy. She took it into co-ownership, eventually making millionaires of 70 of her staff. But it was 25 years before Freelance Programmers paid a dividend. It eventually succeeded, went public and employed 8,500 staff – men and women – when it was acquired in 2007.

Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, Dame Stephanie was on the Computer Systems and Electronics Requirements Board which funds public research, the first woman President of the chartered British Computer Society and served on the boards of Tandem Computers Inc., AEA Technology plc and the John Lewis Partnership.

Post retirement her venture philanthropy includes supporting the IT livery company and the Oxford Internet Institute which concentrates on the social, economic, legal and ethical issues of this network of networks.

I cannot imagine a sector more suited to graduate women. It’s dynamic with fantastic growth opportunities and – as we have seen during lockdown – offers flexible, family-friendly opportunities.