Madeline Ford Ryerson ’10 Presents Anne Sophie Laumont Lecture

Software engineer Madeline Ford Ryerson ’10 presented this year’s Anne Sophie Laumont Lecture, “On the Origin of Code: What Evolution Can Teach Us About Software Engineering,” at an Upper School assembly. The lecture, which combined Ryerson’s academic background in evolutionary biology with her work in engineering, highlighted how she continues to align her intellectual curiosity with her academic and professional pursuits. Ryerson is among three of Head of School Bodie Brizendine’s former students invited to present this year’s named lecture series in honor of Brizendine’s final year at Spence.  

Senior Hailey S. introduced Ryerson, who received a B.A. in Human Evolutionary Biology from Harvard before finding her niche in software engineering. Now a Lead Engineer at Guild Education, Ryerson is “constantly learning and solving new problems” in service to the organization’s mission of providing American workers with greater access to education. 

From the time she was young, Ryerson wanted to be a “knower of everything,” she shared. While this quality didn’t initially lend itself to choosing a college major, it has helped Ryerson with big picture thinking as she addresses complex technical challenges at Guild Education. Should software engineers create solutions that anticipate future needs, she posed, or instead make incremental changes to solve problems in real time?

To answer this question, Ryerson turns to the guiding principles behind evolutionary biology. “Since there is no way of knowing what the future holds and what the future environment might look like, I believe that the smart choice is often to build systems for now, and let environmental pressures over time shape future adaptations,” Ryerson said, noting that many small changes ultimately add up to larger ones. 

Invoking the Spence motto, “Not just for School but for life we learn,” Ryerson encouraged students to use an interdisciplinary approach in their own fields of work. “Drawing ideas from one domain and applying them in another can breathe new life into existing ways of thinking.” Ryerson said. “In doing so, you could be that spark of change that eventually causes a whole system to evolve.”


The Anne Sophie Laumont ’99 Lecture was established in 1998 by Sophie’s parents, family and friends to honor her passion for knowledge, pay homage to her courageous spirit, cherish her legacy and extend the spark of her creativity to future generations of Spence students. Each year, the School honors Sophie’s memory with a lecture in one of the following areas: the arts, literature or the sciences.