Anne-Marie Imafidon wasn’t your typical child prodigy. Growing up female and black in East London, she didn’t exactly fit the stereotype of someone who passed two A-level examinations at the age of 11 – one of the youngest ever to do so in the UK – got admitted to Oxford at 17, and earned a controller’s degree at the tender age of 20.
But precociousness has always come naturally for the young polymath. “As early as I remember, I've always loved logical things,” she says. “I've always had an obsession with taking things apart and trying to put them back together again.” Anne-Marie brought her intellectual curiosity to one of her first jobs – a position at a major banking institution – where she admits she “loved being paid well to do stuff that I would have done for free anyway.”
During these early years, it didn’t dawn on Anne-Marie that she was different. That happened after she attended her first Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, the world's largest gathering of women in computing. “That was when I realized I was a woman in tech, which up until that point, I hadn’t ever noticed,” she says. “I hadn’t even explored being a black woman in tech or knowing that that was a thing. For me, it was like, ‘Oh, gosh, I'm part of this crew, this group—that’s great.’”
Embracing a bigger vision
The comradery inspired Anne-Marie to marshal her talents behind a larger mission. “I realized that women in computing are going to go extinct if things go on as they have been. If I ever have children, I don’t want them to think that their mom is the only woman left in tech. This is a big issue and I’ve got a fair amount of agency and insight to be a part of the change.”
Her newfound sense of purpose drove her decision in 2013 to start Stemettes, an award-winning social enterprise working to inspire young women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – aka STEM. Currently Anne-Marie serves as the organization’s CEO and “Head Stemette.” “I'm working with 45,000 young women to encourage girls to come and join the tech world,” she says.
More recently she launched Women Tech Charge, a podcast that bills itself as “a series of candid, inspiring and often funny conversations with women inventors and entrepreneurs.” Now into its third season, Anne-Marie says the podcast “is basically me talking to lots of women who have taken charge using technology.”
Altruism in tech
What does math, tech, and helping others have to do with each other? Everything, Anne-Marie will tell you. “Altruism in tech is something that’s always driven me,” she says. “Personally, I think you should build tools to do things that help people, because people need a lot of help. Why can’t we build tech that helps rather than tech that hinders?”
The truth is that technology can do both, she argues. The choice is up to you. “When I talk to young people, I ask them, ‘Do you want to make things better or do you want to be an evil genius?’ Tech is the way to do either, because ultimately it’s a tool that does what you want it to.”
And the consequences of technology are bigger than ever before, placing a growing ethical burden on tech inventors and practitioners. “As a technologist today, you have so much more agency and power than you could ever realize,” she says. “Every line of code, every code review—anything that you do has much more power and much more consequence as each day goes by. So, get into the habit of doing it well and using that power wisely.”\
Listen to more of Anne-Marie’s remarkable story on Episode 84 of DevOps Radio.