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There's Still A Shortage Of Women In Tech, First Female Turing Award Winner Warns

Women skilled in math and science lean to biology and medicine, she says.

Frances Allen has become the first woman to win the ACM A.M. Turing Award, the tech industry's most prestigious honor. But she doesn't want you to consider her stature a sign that the profession has its fair share of women.


Frances Allen, winner of the 2006 A.M. Turing Award

Frances Allen
winner of the 2006 A.M. Turing Award
In fact, Allen, 74, thinks women were more prevalent when she started her career--in 1959, three of her four IBM co-managers were women--than they are today. The shortage of women in IT "is getting worse," she says.

IBM Fellow Emerita Allen was honored for contributions in compiler design and program optimization. They led to advances in parallel, high-speed computing, now used for weather forecasting, global warming research, and DNA matching. Allen says women with strong math and science skills today are more drawn to biology and medicine because they're seen as providing "more social good." She hopes high-performance computing's role in medical research will bring more women into the tech profession.

People can look at her work to find computing's social good. Allen is "particularly delighted" that her work led to simulated testing of nuclear bombs, allowing for fewer test explosions of the real thing.

Allen will use the $100,000 prize, funded by Intel, to start a fund to teach girls in areas of the world where educational opportunities are slim.

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