Being a Role Model – I

Frances Allen planned to be a high school math teacher after earning her bachelor’s degree.  She began teaching in her hometown.  Two years later, she began her master’s degree.  Frances intended to return to teaching but realized a teaching career would make it difficult to pay off her student debts.  This was 1957.

She decided to go to work for IBM as a programmer and eventually return to teaching.  She stayed at IBM for 45 years.  While at IBM, Frances was a pioneer in her work of making compilers more efficient.  In fact, the apps that are so popular today would not be as fast to run without her original work.

But what about her desire to teach?  Frances became an extraordinary teacher, but not in front of a classroom.  She became a role model for young women who wanted to pursue a career in computer science.  During the 1970’s and 1980’s, half of the experimental compiler group at IBM were women.

Frances was the first woman to be named an IBM Fellow.  She was also the first woman to win the Turing Award, the highest distinction in computer science.

Young people are often inspired by persons who came before them and succeeded.  Role models show the way and make career hopes more realistic.  Unfortunately, there are those who seem to delight in discouraging young persons.  There are ill informed stereotypes of what types of individuals fit with certain careers.  The success of a Frances Allen can go a long way to dispel the myth that girls can’t code.

Role models enjoy the mentoring of young persons and helping them see what’s possible.  Words of encouragement are important, but role models also create a character legacy for others to follow.  In effect, role models are “on stage” 24/7.  Everything they do is observed by others.  Often a simple act or casual conversation will long be remembered by others.

The most effective role models come from humble beginnings and lead humble lives.  While role models may be honored in their careers, the real honor for them is seeing others succeed.

Being a role model does not require a title.  You can be a role model while you are young.  Becoming a role model starts by a genuine caring for others.  While Frances Allen created the groundwork for efficient computing, her most lasting contribution may be the message she delivered to those who aspired to be like her.  Frances Allen was an extraordinary educator.

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“Being a role model is the most powerful form of educating.”  – John Wooden (UCLA basketball coach who won 10 national championships)

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