Ada Lovelace Day: Sheila Howell

Laura Thomson

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!  This day is  celebrated by writing about a woman in technology who inspired you.

For Ada Lovelace Day this year, I want to honor Sheila Howell, a computer science academic at my alma mater, RMIT University. I first met Sheila in the early 90s in CS280 – Software Engineering.  In that course I learned how to design and estimate systems.  She taught systems thinking, a skill I have used over and over again and use to this day.  I remember an exercise where we had to interview “users” (academics with scripts) about the current system, and design something better.  That has stayed with me: the best way to learn something is to do it.  The other key thing I learned is that there’s more to a solid system than the code.

Sheila went on to become the Head of School of Computer Science, and I went on to teach CS280, funnily enough, among other things.  She was an excellent Head of School: liked by everyone but supremely good at getting things done.

She tried to retire but didn’t manage it, coming back to run the African Virtual University project at RMIT.  This was a fantastic program that aimed to help African Universities set up and teach Computer Science programs.

I believe Sheila is still teaching at RMIT to this day.

I’d like to say thank you to Sheila: you inspired and influenced my career more than you’ll ever know.