Appreciating Stephanie “Steve” Shirley – The programmer and businesswoman that they never taught me about in school

Original post by Rachel Morris on her Facebook page

I’ve talked about Stephanie Shirley before, but I have new friends now so I’m going to gush over her a bit more.

While going to UMKC, I’d hear about Ada Lovelace a lot from teachers, and almost never about any other women in tech, even Grace Hopper. Ada Ada Ada. Sure, Ada’s great, but I’m not really that into her. She’s kind of hard to relate to.

I didn’t find out about Stephanie Shirley until this TED Talk. I looked her up on Wikipedia and eventually bought her book, “Let It Go”, about her life. And I could only think about, “Woah, why haven’t I heard of this woman before?!”

Long story short: She started a company in the 1960s called “Freelance Programmers”. She had a young child, so she was no longer able to find employment in a traditional job.
To fill positions as freelance programmers, she hired other people who had to care for dependents, who had to also leave their careers. Mostly moms, but anyone who was playing the role of caretaker, really.

It was successful. It was SO successful. And in her book she goes over the growth of her company, as well as the trials and tribulations in her personal life (with an early one being, getting separated from her parents in 1939, as she and her sister were sent to Britain to get out of Nazi Europe.)

Stephanie Shirley had made a lot of money from her company. And, since there were no proper facilities for her autistic son at the time, she set up houses where groups of people could live together with a nurse always on the grounds, as well as other philanthrophic acts.

She is an amazing woman, and I relate to her mentality of, “I need this, but it doesn’t exist, so damnit I’ll do it myself.”, as well as the idea of hiring people who work from home, who don’t HAVE to work full-time, and who still do a great job.

I wish I had heard of this woman when I was growing up. Maybe I would have been more brave in starting my company sooner. But I definitely would have had somebody to look up to, who was also a woman. I love John Carmack, but I needed more women role models as well.

If you’re interested in learning more – PICK UP HER BOOK! She is worth reading about!

Stephanie’s TED Talk

Stephanie’s Wikipedia entry

Let It Go by Dame Stephanie Shirley

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