As a geographically dispersed and often individually isolated minority in computer science,
women rarely have the opportunity to interact in person with other women on any subject in the field.
Systers exposes women to the full range of significant professional interactions among women
without the perception of help by or input from men.
This serves to bolster self-esteem and independence.

—Anita Borg

2500 women in 38 countries subscribe to Systers, an electronic mailing list created by Dr. Anita Borg, who died of brain cancer on Sunday, April 6, 2003, in Sonoma, California at the age of 54.

She was born Anita Borg Naffz in 1949 in Chicago, Illinois, and evidenced an early interest in mathematics, according to her mother, Beverly Naffz. She grew up in Palatine, Illinois, Kaneohe, Hawaii, and Mukilteo, Washington.

It was after receiving her Ph.D. for work on operating systems synchronization efficiency from the Courant Institute at New York University in 1981 that Dr. Borg realized her real calling in life was to use computers to link people—and especially women scientists and engineers—together.

After spending four years building a fault tolerant Unix-based operating system, first for Auragen Systems Corporation of New Jersey and then with Nixdorf Computer in Germany, she joined Digital Equipment Corporation’s Western Research Laboratory in Palo Alto, California in 1986. At Digital she developed and patented a method for generating complete address traces used for analyzing and designing high-speed memory systems.

She left Digital in 1997 and joined the Xerox Corporation’s Palo Alto Research Center where she was supported in her effort to create the Institute for Women and Technology, an experimental R&D organization focusing on increasing the impact of women on technology and the positive impact of technology on the world's women.

At the institute, technologists, social scientists and community members work together to create technologies based on women's needs, situations, and genius. They also work to create a worldwide network of collaborations.

“The institute is part of a growing movement to diversify engineering,” says PARC's chief technology officer, Mark Weiser. "In the bigger sense," he says, "what Anita (did) fits directly into the participatory design movement, where more and more companies are trying to get everyday people involved in the project design cycle." Or, as Dr. Borg herself put it, "If all you do is ask Ph.D. computer scientists what they want, all you'll get is stuff that's good for Ph.D. computer scientists."

As part of her goal to transform technology research and development by involving women at every level, Dr. Borg also had passionate thoughts on how products are sold: "It drives me crazy when companies develop and market stuff strictly to 18- to 30-year-old male early adopters," she said. "Any company that goes only for that demographic is conservative and not thinking about how to break into really big markets."

It was in 1994 that she co-founded the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women, which was a conference held every two years that focused on the research and career interests of women in computing.

Dr. Borg’s Systers email list, begun in 1987 after she returned from a conference where she was one of only a very few women present, was limited to women with highly technical training. Discussions were rigorously confined to technical issues, said Maria Klawe, dean of engineering at Princeton University and Dr. Borg’s longtime friend.

“When someone would go off topic, they would get a polite, personal message from Anita reminding them to stay on the subject,” said Dr. Klawe, who is also president of the Association of Computing Machinery.

Systers achieved world-wide notoriety in 1992 after protesting the Mattel toy company’s sale of a Barbie doll that proclaimed “math class is tough.” “My mother taught me that math was fun, so I thought it could be,” said Dr. Borg. In fact, the energetic engineer made fun an important part of her life both in and out of the office. She mountain-biked, flew light planes, and loved to kayak.

Anita Borg, though an acclaimed scientist and engineer in her own right, will be remembered as being virtually synonymous with the genesis of women in Information Technology.

She was a gentle giant.


2002 Eighth Annual Heinz Award for Technology, Economy and Employment.
2002 Honorary doctor's degree in science and technology, Carnegie-Mellon
2002 National Organization for Women, Excellence in Education Award.
2001 Professional Business Women of California 2001 Breakthrough Award.
2001 San Francisco Business Times, 75 Most Influential Women in the San Francisco Bay Area
2001 Computing Research Association, A. Nico Haberman Award.
2000 Girl Scouts of America, Juliet Gordon Low Award
1999 ACM's Distinquished Service Award
1999 Forbes Executive Women's Summit Award for Outstanding Achievement
1999 Melitta Bentz Woman of Innovation Award
1999 Named one of the “Top 25 Women on the Web”
1998 Women in Technology International Hall of Fame.
1996 Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery
1995 Pioneer Award, Electronic Frontier Foundation
1995 Augusta Ada Lovelace Award, Association of Women in Computing
1994 “Top 100 Women in Information Sciences”, Open Computing Magazine
1994 World of Today and Tomorrow Award, Girl Scouts of Santa Clara County


The Institute for Women and Technology Mecca: Communication and Information for Virtual Communities
The Diversity Collection: A Proposal to Create a National Resource and Nationwide Collaboration for the 21st Century Workforce
50/50 by 2010: A Consortium to Realize Female Potential in Science and Engineering (DRAFT Proposal)
Systers: An international internet community for women in computing.


CAWMSET - 1999 Congressional Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering and Technology.
CRA Board – Board of Directors of the Computing Research Association
CRAW - CRA Committee on Women in Research
CWE – Celebration of Women in Engineering, A project of the National Academy of Engineering
WAM - ACM Committee on Women (advisor)
Access by Design - Steering Committee, a project of the Center for Children and Technology and the Educational Development Corporation
MentorNet - Steering Committee

Obituary by Katie Hafner,


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