After a 50-plus year career in technology, Ann Moffatt is a living legend of the Australian industry. She has been a pioneer, both as a technologist and as a woman pushing ahead in an industry that became increasingly dominated by men the further into it she progressed.
It has been a wild ride, and a life well-lived and Ann Moffatt has stories to tell. She has just published a memoir, ‘The IT Girl – 50 years as a woman working in the information technology sector’
In this episode of InnovationAus’ Commercial Disco podcast Ann Moffatt covers a lot of territory, from an early love of mathematics and learning how to program, to building a career and a family.
It covers a serious policy discussion about women in tech, and how to encourage girls to keep their early interest in STEM subjects into adulthood, as well as a brief interlude of hero worship, where Ms Moffatt talks about picking up the mother of COBOL – Rear Admiral Grace Hopper – from the airport and discussing tech over tea.
Ann Moffatt is a founder of FITT, or Females in IT and Telecommunications, set up in 1990 and now grown to more than 4,000 members. By design, FITT is a network organisation having eschewed from the start the more hierarchical structures and committees that are found in organisations like the Australian Computer Society.
Ms Moffatt is a Fellow of the ACS, was inducted into the Pearcey Foundation Hall of Fame in 2011.
It is worth noting the photograph that accompanies this story (and which is on the cover of the new book). This is Ann Moffatt sitting at her loungeroom table with her daughter at her side as she writes programs to analyse the supersonic Concorde jet’s black box recorder.
It is the kind of quite extraordinary moment in time that sometimes passes without notice. At the time Ann was working with Stephanie “Steve” Shirley’s Freelance Programmers Ltd, a company that was set up to create opportunities for women with dependents.
Ann Moffatt has a view of the world that is both inspiring and sobering. In her earliest days in the industry in the late 1950s, gender was not an issue. The industry did not start to become dominated by men until the 1960s.
By then, she said, “people were starting to understand that computing could become a profession, because it was hard and you could earn good money. And men started seeing this as a way to the top in an organisation, and so men started to come in as managers.”
“And gradually as the men started to come into the top jobs, the women were pushed into other jobs – like they’d be punch-card girls, or computer operator if they were lucky.”
Having been a programmer since 1959, Ms Moffatt was not going to accept that. When she took a role as a programmer at Kodak in the early sixties, she was the only woman in the company’s professional organisation.
She came to Australia in 1974, recruited to fix some problems on an ambitious network computer at the AMP financial services group. Intending to stay for just a couple of years, she has been in Australia ever since.
It is a bit of an odd thing that gender was not really an issue when she started in the industry, but grew into an issue as she went. Having held senior tech positions across a variety of large organisations – including the ASX – she says she was approached by women regularly, who sought advice.
That led to the creation of FITT, so that women would have a place to talk to each other.
“It wasn’t going to be a hierarchy like the computer society. We weren’t going to have chairmen and committees and things like that. It was going to be a network – a network of women helping women.”
“The numbers of women in tech is still somewhere around 20 per cent. So, something must be wrong,” Ms Moffatt said.
“Because I have been paid an awful lot of money to have fun [working in tech] all my life. I feel very fortunate. But it’s a problem [nonetheless]. Why aren’t there more women in technology?”