Hidden Human Computers vs Hidden Figures

Hidden Human computersIt is so surreal to have a book out about the same thing as a major motion picture.  I just had someone e-mail me a question about one of the women in the movie.

She asked:

Just saw Hidden Figures which I LOVED.  Wondering what Mary Jackson could do that the white men in the same office couldn’t do?  Was she a genius at looking outside the box with math?  She must have had something special for her to be invited into those top circles already filled by talented men that they couldn’t do. What was that?

Hmm.  Give birth?

Okay, that’s the smarty pants answer.  And truly it was the one I was most comfortable giving for two reasons.

  1.  This is largely a matter of opinion.  I’m a whole lot more comfortable with fact.
  2. I haven’t seen the movie.

But after thinking about it a while I was able to cook up an answer for her.  Here is my response:

“I haven’t managed to see the movie yet so I’m not sure how they handled this.

But the men didn’t do the math.  They were engineers.  They came up with problems.  They tested the problems and generated results.  And the female computers crunched the numbers.  

“Many of the women who climbed the ranks did so with male advocates.  I know that Jackson’s mentor was her boss and I think, I’d have to pull out my notes, that he was male.  A bit part of moving up was know what classes to take and what to do to make your qualifications more appealing.  Jackson was especially good at telling what might be holding someone back and went on to mentor her coworkers and act as the affirmative action program manager.  She was a serious go-getter.”
Phew.  That was a tough one.  And now I’m wondering if any other authors get letters like this?