Dame Stephanie ShirleyDame Stephanie Shirley is a British Information Technology (IT) pioneer, businesswoman and philanthropist.

Shirley was born in Dortmund in 1933 and at the age of five in 1939, she arrived in Britain as a Kindertransport child refugee and was placed under the care of foster parents. She later attended Oswestry Girls’ HIgh School, where mathematics was not taught, so she received permission to take these lessons at the local boys school.

After leaving school, Shirley sought employment in the field of mathematics and technology. In the 1950s, she worked at the Post Office Research Station at Dollis Hill, building computers from scratch and writing code in machine language. 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.

After her marriage to physicist Derek Shirley, in 1962, she founded a software company called Freelance Programmers. Having experienced sexism in her workplace (and for this reason also going by the name Steve), Shirley wanted to create job opportunities for women with dependent, so most of her workforce was made up of women, with only 3 men out of 300 staff.

When her company peaked in the 1980s, she was worth around £150 million and was the 11th richest woman in the UK. She has donated over £68 million. She retired in 1993 and has since been very active in philanthropy via the Shirley Foundation, particularly for charities supporting research into autism and emerging technologies. As well as receiving dozens of honors, Shirley is former president of the British Computer Society and a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering. She has given away most of her wealth to philanthropic causes, including a gift of £10 million to found the Oxford Internet Institute.

Below, we take a look at some of Dame Stephanie Shirley’s most inspirational quotes:


“Even in the blackest moments of despair there is hope, if one can find the courage to pursue it.”

“I have learned that few things in life are as solid as they seem; that tomorrow will not always resemble today; and that wholesale change, though often terrifying, is not necessarily synonymous with catastrophe.” necessarily synonymous with catastrophe.”

“The art of surrender is, I am convinced, a key to many kinds of success – and fulfilment. And many lives are limited by a failure to master it.”

“We waste too much time being afraid, when what we should really fear is wasting time.”

“You can always tell ambitious women by the shape of our heads: they’re flat on top for being patted patronizingly.”

“Young women today have the choice over whether they want a vigorous professional career or whether they want to float around a bit more and enjoy life.”

“Women can be themselves, dress for themselves, and most employers now recognise that diversity of skills brings out features that they just wouldn’t even think of with the men only.”

“Find something that your care about, get trained, surround yourself with first class people… and then enjoy”

“I learned that tomorrow’s never going to be like today an certainly nothing like yesterday”

“I decided to make mine a life that was worth saving. And then I just got on with it”

“We waste too much time being afraid, when what we should really fear is wasting time”

“I say start small, start local about something you care about”

“Every generation thinks the rate of change is the fastest ever but it will never stop. The future will see even faster pace of change than we can imagine.”

“Go over, go under, go around or go elsewhere.”

“There is a price for success, whether it’s in business or as an artist: the cost to your health, family and life can be enormous.”