ABI Women of Vision Award honorees provide glimpse into the future of technology

Padmasree_Warrior__ABI_WOVA_2009_1_.jpgby Heather Cassell (San Francisco)

Innovation, collaboration, and the future of technology was the theme of this year’s Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology’s Women of Vision Awards.

The fourth annual awards event brought out 650 attendees April 30 to applaud innovative honorees Yuqing Gao, Jan Cuny, and Mitchell Baker and to focus on the future.

“You are all a precious resource to us,” Elizabeth Wilems, vice president of IT and chief information officer of Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, told an estimated 136 young college women invited by sponsors to attend the event.“It should be encouraging to you that these opportunities are out there for you,” continues Wilems, telling the young women that there are programs to help them develop their careers and be successful. “Add your voice and watch your career take off.”

Lockheed Martin hosted the annual award dinner this year. The first year that this level of sponsorship was offered, says Jerri Barrett, ABI’s director of marketing. Adding the host sponsorship level by skipping the gold sponsorship level helped boost the event’s revenue an estimated 3 percent beyond last year’s benefit, Barret says. This is unprecedented, especially since the economic crisis has heavily hit technology industry and was on the minds of many event guests.

Padmasree Warrior, chief technology officer of Cisco Systems, opened the evening after a welcome by Telle Whitney, ABI president and CEO, sharing with the audience a few lessons that she’s learned during her 25 year career in technology:

  1. Every transition brings with it a growth opportunity
  2. You can gain speed at the turn
  3. Leaders blur boundaries
  4. The best way to gain recognition is to give it away
  5. Opportunity is a mold waiting to be reshaped

Warrior, who was one of only a handful of girls in her engineering school in India and graduated at the top of her class, tells the audience that “women have to be women to be great leaders.” She encouraged the young women in the audience to follow their passion, saying that by following their passion they will “find the courage to break the mold.”

Gao, senior manager of IBM T.J. Watson Research Center who headed up the company’s Laboratory for Speech to Speech Translation Systems was honored with the innovation award for her research and development of voice recognition translation systems.The Multilingual Automatic Speech-to-Speech systems she developed for IBM, one of many language systems she’s developed, is helping to remove conflicts caused by language barriers and miscommunications.

“Without a sense of the challenge and the desire of conquering the challenge there would be no passion for progress and innovation,” says Gao, who as a little girl in China was attracted to the possibilities of science and technology through the radio airwaves. Like Warrior, Gao took the opportunity to reach her dream when she became one of the first girls to attend school after the Chinese government opened school doors to girls.

Cuny is working to change where she works in the field of computing to open the doors to America’s youths, especially low-income and underrepresented youths in science and technology. Cuny, program director of the National Science Foundation, was honored with the award for social impact for her work bringing technology to underserved communities, which she estimates make up 70 percent of the U.S. population.“As a just and equitable society we can’t afford to have the digital divide exacerbate what is already a very big economic divide in our country,” says Cuny.

Less than 2,000 schools teach advanced level computing courses, according to Cuny, who points out that the U.S. is dangerously under producing an educated technological workforce needed to remain competitive and in doing so threatens to miss “opportunities for innovation.”“This is exactly the right time to do it,” says Cuny appealing to the audience pointing to President Barack Obama’s recent speech on science and technology, in support of her work to place 10,000 computing teachers into 10,000 schools by 2015. “We need to give them that opportunity.”

The Mozilla Foundation is the result of “ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” says chairperson Baker, who was honored with the award for leadership for her work to keep the Internet open and innovative.Baker, who describes herself as “not a natural born leader,” helped shape the license under which Netscape’s source code was released—later it became Mozilla, when Netscape shut its doors. Says Baker, “We are a social movement across the globe.”

Photo of Padmasree Warrior by Samay Studio