A software development engineer who created new technologies for Amazon and launched a grass roots tech nonprofit. A college professor who was awarded more than $12 million to support research in STEM education. An entrepreneur who created an on-demand laundry app. And a cyber security chief introducing innovation in the field of corporate security orchestration.
These regional titans of tech, and others like them, were honored for their contributions to the field earlier this year at the Ada Lovelace Awards in New Orleans, a fast-growing event that highlights women making big contributions in six technology fields across the Gulf South.
The annual event was first conceived by Chris Reade, father of a young daughter and founder of LookFar Ventures in New Orleans. Reade wanted to showcase women’s accomplishments in a male-dominated field and named the awards for Lovelace, a 19th Century British mathematician who is considered to be the world’s first computer programmer. The event has grown from a small gathering in 2015 to a much-anticipated spectacle revealing the contributions of women in software engineering; tech start-up; product management; STEM education; digital marketing; and UI/UX (user interface/user experience) design. Nominees are sought from Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
“This event has really grown and demonstrates how much women are making a difference in tech fields in their communities,” says Lindsay Fox, vice president of sales and brand strategy of LookFar Labs, a partner and co-creator of the event.
The first Ada Lovelace Awards in 2015 were a small ceremony held inside LookFar’s Bywater offices. A panel of judges was selected from New Orleans, which evaluated nominations from local women in tech. But while modest, the event revealed the untapped enthusiasm for a larger conversation about the rich achievements of women in the field. Tech wasn’t just for men in Silicon Valley, and New Orleans was a hotbed of activity.
“We were blown away by the response, ” recalls Fox. “The reaction from the nominees was so heartwarming. It brought many women to tears, and we got a lot of emails about how much it meant to them. It was resounding proof that we needed to keep going.”
In 2016, the event doubled in size, and in 2017, the team expanded geographically to six states in the Gulf South. They also expanded the awards categories and partnered with the New Orleans-based STEM education nonprofit, Electric Girls, which held a daytime workshop in conjunction with the evening ceremony. Response once again exceeded expectations, says Fox, and demonstrated not just how much women appreciated being acknowledged, but also the depth of talent unfolding in tech circles across the region.
With even more growth anticipated in 2018, the team took a step back and spent the year planning a new, larger format, says LookFar Labs Director of Marketing, Mallory Whitfield, who now leads the event’s production.
The next event was held in March 2019 at the Civic Theatre in the New Orleans Central Business District.
“We expanded the categories from four to six, and we had more than 100 nominations,” Whitfield says. “The event was phenomenally well attended, and energy was really high.”
Among the winners were Atlanta-based Nashlie Sephus, PhD, a software development engineer who launched technology that allows consumers to visually search for replacement parts on Amazon. She is also the founder of the Jackson, Mississippi-based Bean Path, which helps communities expand their technology awareness and partnerships. Another winner was Julie Cwikla, PhD, the University of Southern Mississippi Director of Creativity and Innovation in STEM. Cwikla has been awarded more than $12 million to support STEM education projects touch a wide variety of age groups.
Whitfield says this year’s judges, highly accomplished individuals in technology, were recruited from around the country. They brought a high level of awareness and expertise to the process, along with an outsider’s sense of objectivity.
Look for next year’s Ada Lovelace Awards to continue to grow and call attention to female innovators technology. For more information, please visit https://www.adaawards.us/.
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