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2009-03-24: Finding Ada

Months ago, I pledged to write something in honor of Finding Ada and post about it when today arrived.  

I now have three thoughts about this, and I need to figure out where to start. 

  • First, I am impressed by young women entering technology, and how much that entry seems to be in Asia and other parts of the world where information technology is seen as an inviting vocation.  There is something instructive in that.
  • Secondly, I notice how many women in technology I have known and worked with.  Despite whatever change is happening with newcomers, I notice that there remain places where women are active and do well.  I continue to encounter younger women technology professionals at places like Microsoft. 
  • Then there is the prospect of recording some personal reminiscence of Grace Hopper, starting with when I first met her.

Linda Bergsteinsson: 1991-01-17Singling out a particular woman who I have known and admire is a great way to focus.  A few come to mind.  I just ran across Linda’s photograph while looking around for women in technology of my direct acquaintance, and here is what I have to say about that.

Linda Bergsteinsson: Pioneering Woman in Technology

I first met Linda in 1989 when she visited the Xerox advanced-development team I was a member of in Rochester, New York.  She’d flown in from the California-based Xerox Office Systems business unit, home of Ethernet, the Xerox work stations, and publishing-system software.  Linda was taking on a crash project for development of a document-imaging system.  The product was required to work with the soon-to-be-announced Xerox Docutech system and it was required to be demonstrable at the launch event. 

I joined her new team.  Not prepared to move to California, I remained in Rochester as part of a satellite operation.  I commuted to El Segundo and Palo Alto until the project and its staff were scooped up under a Rochester-based organization.  I lost touch with Linda until the Spring of 1992 when, knowing that I was finally looking for a way to move to California, she informed me of an urgent need for a software architect on XSoft document-management products. 

I arrived in Silicon Valley in August 1992.  Although I didn’t work with Linda again, we remained colleagues and friends until neither of us were in Silicon Valley any longer.

I learned, as part of our acquaintance, that Linda and I were the same age.  She graduated from UCLA in 1960 as a mechanical engineer, a very unusual choice at that time.  She had worked in Germany and at Ford Aeronutronics.  She was solidly into computers on joining Planning Research Corporation, in Los Angeles, around the same time in the 60s when they were contracting support to some Univac software in arrangements I was tangentially on the far end of. 

At Xerox, she was involved in the original Xerox Workstation software effort and was working at the descendant of that PARC-associated organization when our paths finally crossed.

Although I would learn of her history as our acquaintance grew, there was something pronounced that I learned from Linda early on.  She just accepted people.  And she liked people that I had quite different snap-judgments about.  Struck by her generosity, I began to question and revise my existing snap impressions of the same people.   She seemed to have a decisive practical nature, and the usual changes of organizations and directions did not distress her so much that it showed.  When she was deposed as part of the document-imaging team being scooped up by another organization, what seemed most unsettling for her was that the principle actors in that play were personally mean about it.  When I later introduced Vicki to Linda, Vicki’s experience was of immediate acceptance and of interest in what was important to Vicki.

Although her career was in technology, Linda also managed a Palo Alto home that always had housemates or visitors.  She collected and displayed art all over her home.  She loved to cook and held wonderful dinners.  I had the opportunity to meet members of her family in town for a little reunion at her home.  Her relatives were struck by the fact that I had worked for and with Linda.  They would confide to me how much they were still somewhat mystified by Linda’s connection to engineering and technology and her taking what seemed such an alien path through life.

As the XSoft organization dwindled and shed senior management team, Linda retired from Xerox Corporation a few years before I did.  Too young to fully retire, I remember how pleased she was to obtain her own PC at home and train herself to work on the Internet.  Freed from management responsibilities and the concerns of senior staff, she found work as a web developer for a local firm.   It was one of the most satisfying experiences she’d had in a long time.

In January 2001, Linda moved from her Palo Alto home to Southern California.  On February 10 she married Tom Criswell, a long-time friend and companion.  They were preparing to move together into a home in Rancho Palos Verdes.  On Tuesday, August 27, 2002, Linda Bergsteinsson Criswell died of cancer.  She was 63.

It was a gift to know her.  Looking back, I see all the ways that I didn’t know her very well.  And, today, I miss her and her calm steadiness.


Linda was my big sister. It's so nice to see Linda acknowledged for the great person she was. She left us way too prematurely and is greatly missed. Bryan
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