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Women in IT

“The most exciting thing about the field of IT is that IT impacts all aspects of our lives and anything is possible. We truly can make the world a better place through advances in IT...”
Kelly's biography

Dr. Kelly Lyons is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. Prior to joining the Faculty of Information, she was the Program Director of the IBM Toronto Lab Centre for Advanced Studies (CAS). Her current research interests include service science, social media, and collaborative work. Currently, she is focusing on ways in which social media can support human-to-human interactions in service systems. Kelly has co-authored a number of papers, served on program committees for conferences, given many keynote and invited presentations, and co-chaired several workshops. She has been the recipient of an NSERC Discovery Grant, an NSERC Collaborative Research and Development Grant with SAP, and an IBM Smarter Planet Faculty Innovation Grant. Kelly holds a cross-appointment with the University of Toronto’s Department of Computer Science, is a member of the Executive Committee of the University of Toronto’s Knowledge Media Design Institute, is an IBM Faculty Fellow, and an SAP Faculty Fellow. From 2008 to 2012, she was a Member-at-Large of the ACM Council and a member of the Executive Council of ACM-W. Kelly is very interested in promoting Women in Technology initiatives and has given several presentations to young people and teachers on this topic. More details can be found here.

I am currently an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Information (the iSchool) at the University of Toronto. I also hold cross appointment in the Department of Computer Science (CS). Being a professor is amazing! From the first time I set foot on a university campus, I knew I wanted to be a professor. My job involves research, teaching, and what we call service. Conducting research is an exciting part of my job because I get to work with others to create something new or increase our understanding of different phenomena. My research focuses on social systems to support people engaging in work activities. In order to do research, funding is required to support students and buy equipment and travel, so part of my job involves applying for grants. Teaching is another important component of my work, one that I absolutely love! In the iSchool, I teach courses in information systems, project management, and service science. In both CS and the iSchool I supervise the research of masters and PhD students which is tremendously rewarding. For the service component of my job, I work on and chair committees that set direction, establish policies, and make decisions regarding the running of various aspects of the iSchool and the university.

The most exciting thing about the field of IT is that IT impacts all aspects of our lives and anything is possible. We truly can make the world a better place through advances in IT but we have to understand not just the technology but the social, cultural, and environmental aspects as well. The best part about my job is working with students to open up possibilities for them. It’s one thing for me to try to make an impact with my work but so much more is going to be accomplished by the students I’ve worked with and had the privilege of teaching. Teaching the next generations of IT people who are making a difference in the world through IT is the best part about my job.

When I was in high school (in the late 70s and start of the 80s) I had no idea what I was going to do at university. I knew I loved math and physics. We didn’t have computer courses or even personal computers at that time. PCs were just becoming available when I started university. My physics teacher, Mr. Lowe (who is now 92 years old and someone I still see quite regularly) told me his daughter liked math and physics and she had taken computer science at university. He also told me that his daughter made a lot of money and got to travel all around the world! That sounded pretty good to me so I enrolled in a BSc in Computing and Information Science at Queen’s University. I absolutely loved it! After my undergrad, I wanted to be a professor but I applied for jobs for fun and the person from IBM who interviewed me was so enthusiastic that I wanted to go work for him for a couple of years. After two years, I left to go back to school for my masters and PhD but my manager at IBM convinced me to take a leave of absence. When I finished my PhD, I returned to IBM and worked on exciting projects with amazing people for another 13 years before finally realizing my dream of becoming a professor in 2008.

My biggest piece of advice to young women hoping to pursue a career in IT whether in academia or industry, is to not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Changing careers, taking on new responsibilities, moving around within an organization can be scary and many women (including myself) hesitate to do so because we worry that we aren’t ready or won’t be good enough. Often our biggest challenge in IT is convincing ourselves that we can do it. In my experience, the more often you push yourself to try new challenges, the easier it gets.


 Kelly swims on a masters team and competes at the Ontario, Canadian, and world levels.

Through outreach and professional development activities, research, partnerships, thought leadership and online initiatives, we work with industry and academia to educate on the value of diversity for innovation, to inspire women to thrive and to celebrate the contributions of women in science and engineering.
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