The Women of XML

By Kurt Cagle
March 24, 2009 | Comments: 15

ada-byron.jpgI've long been a fan of Lady Ada Augusta Lovelace. She was not only one of Charles Babbage's biggest patrons, but she also was one of the first to suggest the use of "Jacquard Loom" type cards as a way of programming the Analytical Engine as well providing what may have been the first software programs. Lovelace, the daughter of the infamous poet Lord Byron, was also herself a "free spirit", albeit one with an astonishingly brilliant intellect behind it.

Today (March 24), in honor of the Patron Goddess (or Patron Saint, as appropriate) of programmers, has been designated Ada Lovelace day. It is a day to recognize women in programming, and I find that, in working with the XML community, that there are a number of highly intelligent, technologically passionate and hard-working women in this particular field that more than deserve to be recognized. I present this list with no particular ordering in mind - these are people I have worked with or corresponded with, and I don't think the concept of ranking really applies here - they have all pushed the boundaries of XML in their own unique ways.

jeni.jpgDr. Jeni Tennison has been one of the people who's worked hardest to push XSLT in particular. She's written books on the subject (including one for O'Reilly), has spoken extensively on XSLT (and other W3C technologies) at conferences, has been one of the enduring presences in the xml and xslt lists and was the prime mover and shaker with the movement, which laid the groundwork for many of the changes that ended up in XSLT 2.0. She's also worked on XML schema standards for ISO and more recently has been involved in the XQuery community, and I fully anticipate that she will continue being a major promoter for these technologies.

dal.jpgbtu_s.jpgI would normally list people separately, but B. Tommie Usden and Deborah A. Lapeyre have been involved together in so many XML initiatives that people tend to assume they're just different aspects of the same person. Both have been the major organizers behind the XML Extreme conferences (which was, as of last year, rechristened Balisage), and both have been instrumental in making Mulberry Technologies one of the foremost XML consulting firms in the world.

Lauren2.jpgLauren Wood has worked with XML from its inception, including serving as Chair of the W3C DOM working group from its inception until 2001, laying down many of the pieces of that critical standard, serving as Senior Technical Program Manager at Sun Microsystems until January 2009, and being the Chair for the XML Conference Series from 2001 to 2005 (as well as serving on Balisage's advisory board among many others). She's also one of the most dignified and honorable people that I've personally had the privilege of meeting (Tim Bray, her husband and another of XML's pioneers, is another).

maler.jpgEve Maler's first blog post in 2004 was entitled Ripping the X Off Her Varsity Sweater, and those times I have met her only serve to highlight both her fierce intellect and willingness to walk different paths than the rest of us. Eve helped with the inception of XML itself, and has additionally helped flesh out SAML, DocBook, the Universal Business Language (UBL) and helped get both Project Concordia and the Liberty Alliance off the ground. Her work in authentication and identity management has been seminal, laying the foundation for establishing presence on the web.

pw2.jpgPriscilla Walmsley has been added here by multiple (well-deserved) calls by her many colleagues. Priscilla is the Managing Director of Datypic, an XML consultancy, was a key member of the W3C Schema Working Group, and coauthored both the Definitive XML Schema (for Prentice Hall) and XQuery for O'Reilly, the latter of which I have purchased four times now (once for myself and the others for clients to use as a textbook on how to work with XQuery). She also wrote XML in Office 2003 with SGML legend Charles Goldfarb.

This is not meant as a comprehensive list - indeed, I would love to be able to add your suggestions as to those women in the XML community that you feel have helped build the foundations of both technology and community and should be recognized for their efforts.

Kurt Cagle is an author and editor with O'Reilly Media. Twitter, Atom

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I think identifying the achievements of women in programming is a very good thing ... I wonder how O'Rielly could help more in promoting women in programming; this needs to 'speak' to women who are making decisions probably at universities and younger.

Jeni I've never met. Online, she is brilliant and kind.

Otherwise, those are the markup goddesses. They make magic. I love every one of them.

And Priscilla Walmsley?

Greetings from Sunderland. There's almost a link here as we are just up the road from Seaham hall , where Lord Byron married Isabella Lovelace, Ada's mother.

I have however, had the pleasure of meeting Eve Mahler and I can add that in addition to her intellectual accomplishments, shes great fun and ever ready to give her time explaining the simplest things to novices like me!

I will second the vote for Priscilla Walmsley. Here book on XQuery is the best book I have.

I fully concur on Patricia Walmsley as well, and have added her to the Women of XML.

On a rather apologetic note, I inadvertently misspelled Dr. Tennison's name as Tennisen. That has been corrected.

Betty Harvey.

If you want to include the SGML gals, Sharon Adler, Pammela Gennusa, Joan Smith, and Lynne Price.

If you want to be fair, Linda Goldfarb. Some jobs done well make all the others possible.

Something else they have in common besides their gender: with the exception of Tommie, they've all taught at the Oxford XML Summer School (, most of them being multi-year veterans.

(And +1 for Betty Harvey, although she hasn't been to the summer school.)


Good article. +1 for Len's suggestions. Lani Hajagos of fond memory would be there too.

When will Kurt have Gays in XML, and Blacks in XML, and Asians in XML too? Am I wrong in thinking there are more gays, blacks and asians in XML than women?


It's an interesting and thought-provoking question. It's been my experience that women actually tend to be more heavily represented in standards work than in IT in general, and usually in more positions of authority than is found in IT in general (though at least on the W3C it still seems to be running about 5/2 in favor of men). Given my feeling that at least with the W3C we're in the late stages of standardization, I don't see that changing much in that organization, but as new standards emerge I suspect the ratio will tend towards parity over time.

As to other groups, I don't really have hard numbers. I have noted the Canadian effect, however - Canadians make up a disproportionately large proportion of the membership of the W3C and the XML community in general, especially odd given that the Canadian population is about 1/10 of the US (consider that three of the six women mentioned above are Canadian, for instance, along with one American and two Brits).

It's a conspiracy, I tell ya!

Another vote for Betty Harvey. And thanks for making sure Priscilla Walmsley is included.

As to Rick's question, I suppose we're sweeping a principle under a carpet and doing the easy thing first by recognizing women as a category. But by doing, we'll get better at it.

Category error?

Can't we do it because it's fun and call it the Bonobo Blues? These ladies are our friends, inspirations, and wonderful souls. We do it because we care.

The difference between iTunes and MySpace/Facebook is the word, "Friends". While the old sales models for content are breaking and there is gnashing in the RIAA, the social networks are causing the artists to set up shop and use the heck out of the Friends button. With Snocap, they have a buy once and copy to your heart's content because we can't stop you and we have cheap content shovels so we can finally get rid of those industry people who's job was to see to it that we lived in boxes, traveled in boxes, sold boxes and didn't get out of those boxes.

Those people don't have a cherry future. We do because we have Friends. Callisti!

These ladies are our dear friends. This is what the web does do well. See The Guild by Felicia Day. The first real generation of web storytellers are emerging. Of their time. Of their voice. Of their passion. Of THEIR story. Baby boomers can go fishin' now, and friends, that is wonderful.

So a tall one to the ladies! We need you.

Don't forget the 3 graces of TEI:

Julia Flanders -- runs the Women Writers' Project at Brown and is a major force in the Text Encoding Initiative. Co-wrote many of the infamous SGML songs.

Nancy Ide -- humanities computing force of nature, and a founder of TEI.

Elli Mylonas -- managing editor of Perseus, leader of many SGML/XML project at STG; lots of TEI work....

(Perhaps Susan hockey too, though her contributions have perhaps been more obvious in humanities computing as a whole than in TEI in particular.

And of course Anne Bruggemann-Klein -- Extreme keynote speaker, has done extremely sophisticate formal-language analyses of SGML, given numerous important papers, etc. etc.

And Mavis Cournane, of course!

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