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Telle Whitney BS’78

When I started at the University of Utah in 1973, I didn't know anything about computer science. I started out as a theater major, then tried political science and various other things. And then out of desperation, I took something called an interest inventory test. That was the first time I found computer science.

I feel very blessed because when I found my passion, it just shone. The U had one of the earliest computer science departments in the country and was doing groundbreaking work. I loved my classes and tried to pack my schedule with everything possible. One of the faculty helped me apply for graduate school—I hadn't considered doing that before. So it opened up a world of possibilities that has served me well throughout my life.

I graduated with a doctorate in computer science from Caltech. When I came to Silicon Valley, there were not many women around. I was desperate to meet other women in the tech industry, so I developed a network. That really provided a nurturing place for me. I made a close friend named Anita Borg during that period, and we founded what became the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference. It was based on this idea that women were often overlooked in terms of their contributions. We wanted to celebrate their achievements.

When I hear the stories from the women who attend, it feeds my soul. If you are one of just a very few in your department, having the chance to see these role models and hear about the positive impact their technology work has on the world, it makes a huge difference. I remember a young mechanical engineer who stopped me in the hallway, and she was just sobbing. She said, “I wish I had been able to attend something like this years ago. This changed my life.”


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