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Dame Stephanie Shirley

2012 Honorary Graduate

Dame-Stephanie-Shirley 1

Dame Stephanie Shirley

Arriving in Harwich as an unaccompanied five year old refugee from Nazi Europe in 1939, Dame Stephanie went on to help develop the first electronic telephone exchange at Highgate Woods and was one of the two mathematicians checking the randomness of ERNIE, the premium bond computer.

She left the scientific civil service on marriage to enter the burgeoning computer industry where she found her true vocation. In 1962, noting the loss to industry of women software specialists, she founded freelance programmers for women who, at that time, were leaving industry on marriage or when their first child was expected. She called herself Steve in her business development letter so as to get through the door before anyone realised that he was a she. 

After 25 years, it grew into a conventional publicly listed company. Steve had transferred a quarter of the company to the staff at no cost to anyone but her so that there were 70 millionaires when it floated.

Her late son Giles was severely autistic and inspired much of her philanthropy: this includes the Kingwood support service, Prior s Court School (now with its Adult Learning Centre); and Autism Cymru in bilingual Wales. An ardent philanthropist, she has given away over £60m and since 2000 has focussed on funding medical research into the causes of autism.