Interview with Dame Stephanie Shirley

Dame Stephanie Shirley aka Steve Shirley is an information technology pioneer, businesswoman and philanthropist. She was born in 1933 in Dortmund, Nazi Germany and as the daughter of a Jewish judge was sent to England in 1939 as a Kindertransport child refugee.

In the 1950s, she worked at the Post Office Research Station at Dollis Hill, building computers from scratch and writing code in machine language. While she was working at the PO, she took evening classes for six years to obtain an honours degree in mathematics. In 1959, she moved to CDL Ltd, designers of the ICT 1301 computer.

In 1962 Dame Shirley founded software company Freelance Programmers with capital of £6 and made it explicit that this was an organisation that would create job opportunities for women with children from home. When pitching for commissions she would constantly be rebuffed or ingnored by the industry until she began signing off letters as ‘Steve’ Shirley.

Throughout her career she would break glass ceilings and fight sexism in the IT idustry.

I was the first woman ‘this’, the only woman ‘that’ and opened the door for many women, especially in high tech … I led a team into a sustainable organisation employing eight and a half thousand people

  • 1933 – born as Vera Buchthal in Dortmund, Germany
  • 1939 – arrives in Birmingham, England as a Kindertransport child refugee
  • 1951 – becomes a British citizen and changes name to Stephanie Brook
  • 1959 – begins working at CDL Ltd, designers of the ICT 1301 computer
  • 1962 – with a capital of £6 she establishes software company Freelance Programmers
  • 2017 – awarded f Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour for having a major contribution to IT over a long period of time

Dame Stephanie Shirley was interviewed by Richard Sharpe in February 2017 at her home in Henley.