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Ada Lovelace Day: Danielle Zaikoff (and many others)

My friend and colleague Suw Charman-Anderson launched an Ada Lovelace Day initiative (site, twitter) getting bloggers to pledge to write a blog post about women in technology.

To honor my pledge, I am writing about Danielle Zaïkoff, P. Eng.

But first, a little introduction about my more recent experience with women in technology. Every project I’ve worked on on the web has had women playing integral an role in making it happen:

LibriVox started growing with the help of Kristen (designed the site) and Kara (pretty much ran the forums, and continues to do much of the heavy-lifting on cataloging), and later Betsie (developed the structure for the cataloging system), Annie (developed the structure for the cataloging system), Cori (helped develop the community podcast, and general internal systems), Gesine (designed much of the internal systems workflow), and Kristin (numerous wordpress improvements and php hacks). Of course many more people, men, women and children contributed to all of this, but it’s fair to say that LibriVox never would have succeeded without the efforts of these, and later, many other women.

Collectik (RIP): was designed and turned into html/css by Kristen.

Earideas, and the Canadian Podcasting Directory (RIP): were designed by Marie-Eve, with html/css integration done by Patricia and Madeline.

Datalibre: is driven mostly by Tracey.

The Atwater Digital Literacy Project: is run by Miriam.

The Atwater Library’s computer centre: is run by Jun.

BookCampToronto: is being organized by a team including Lex, Erin and Julie.

Book Oven, my biggest and most ambitious project, was co-founded by my business partner, the extraordinarily talented Stephanie (read the Ada Lovelace post about Steph here) who is CTO, product manager, production manager, project manager, UI designer, and countless other things, every day. Marie-Eve does the design; and Suw Charman-Anderson is developing our community management approach, managing user testing, and generally helping us think better about that grey zone where people and technology intersect.

So it’s fair to say that my life in web technology has been spent surrounded by dedicated and skilled women who have helped me build some things that I am proud of.

But back to Danielle Zaïkoff.

My first real job out of university, was with a group called the E7 (now E8), a non-profit group funded by electric utilities from G7 (now G8) countries. The mandate of the group was twofold: to develop joint policies about sustainable development in the electricity industry, around pressing issues such as climate change; and to do knowledge transfer projects about best practices and environmental management in developing countries. I worked in the Secretariat (permanently based at Hydro-Quebec in Montreal), which consisted of a senior engineer, nearing retirement, and a small team of junior engineers just out of university. The Managing Director (I worked for two, both women) was generally a senior executive from Hydro-Quebec, who was winding down a successful career, and wanted to spend a couple of years doing something challenging, but not necessarily tied to central operation of Hydro-Quebec.

Danielle Zaikoff was my first boss at E7. She had started as an engineer at Hydro-Quebec in 1972, I believe she was the first female engineer on staff at the company. Not content to stay in the offices in Montreal, she worked as a project engineer on the huge James Bay hydro installations, a post she was initially refused, because the company did not think women should work in in remote field operations. She went on to become the first female director of Hydro Quebec, the first female president of the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec and the first woman president of the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers.

I learned many things from Danielle, mainly the importance of precision and clarity in work, and the dangers of sloppiness. She was a generous boss, who spent much time mentoring the young engineers and others under her command. She demanded excellence and promptness, was exacting, fair, tough and dedicated.

Like many of the women I’ve worked with in tech over the years.


  1. Kristen Kristen 2009-03-25

    Wow, I got a mention in an Ada Lovelace Day post. Thanks, Hugh. Interesting that we both wrote about our influential women bosses.

  2. Hugh Hugh 2009-03-25

    Hi Kristen … our young selves were forged in the smithy of the workplace, I suppose …

  3. Sophie Lagacé Sophie Lagacé 2009-03-26

    Hey, Hugh, do you still have any contact with Dr. Zaikoff? I read she was now retired and pursuing art, which is very cool.

  4. Hugh Hugh 2009-03-26

    @sophie: somehow she found my article and contacted me by email!

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