In its latest episode of The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers, NOVA introduces us to Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley, digital and entrepreneurial pioneer. Before Dame Stephanie Shirley, no one developed and sold computer software separately from the hardware. And that was just one of her many accomplishments.
Dame Stephanie Shirley was born Vera Buchtal to a German Jewish father and non-Jewish mother in Dortmund, Germany, 1933. Her family fled from Germany to Austria only weeks before Hitler took over in Vienna. In 1939, Dame Stephanie Shirley’s parents put her and her nine-year-old sister on one of the Kindertransport trains taking children across Europe to London to escape the Nazis. When the sisters arrived in Britain, penniless and without knowing a word of English, they were placed in the care of foster parents who raised the girls as their own.
“My experience as an unaccompanied child refugee gave me the drive to prove that my life had been worth saving,” she says. “I’ve been driven by that now for seventy-five years.”
In this video, Dame Stephanie Shirley talks about her early experiences as a girl interested in mathematics and science, and how hitting the “glass ceiling” at work encouraged her to set up her own company in 1962. “While planning to start a family, I hit upon the brilliant idea of offering part-time employment to professional women with dependents and perforce developed new techniques to manage the business on this basis.”
After decades of incredible success and achievement, Dame Stephanie Shirley retired from her business, but she has never stopped working. Motivated to help improve the lives of others less fortunate, she set up Shirley Foundation, inspired by her autistic son Giles, who died at the age of 35. The Foundation facilitates strategic projects in the fields of autism. On a mission to give away all of her wealth, today, Dame Stephanie Shirley is considered one of the world’s leading philanthropists. Find out more at steveshirley.com.
More on Dame Stephanie Shirley’s experience as a child refugee: