We’ve still got a long way to go as women in technology. Statistics from the Women in Tech Survey discovrered 78% of women believe that there is a gender pay gap in the tech sector, and half of the women surveyed (52%) said that they have experienced gender bias or discrimination in the workplace. The fight for office equality has basically seeped itself into our job descriptions, like that isn’t daunting! But we must remember the women before us. Those who protested and fought for our careers.
Today, I’m sharing my appreciation for the female pioneers of computer science – and where to start but the legendary Ada Lovelace?
Back in 1843, Ada Lovelace published algebraic patterns required for a particular calculation, Note G, using Charles Babbage’s “Analytical Engine”. Lovelace’s notes, in addition to her original translation of Babbage’s, developed the first computer program. Without Ada Lovelace, who knows the technology of today would be?
Modern society now celebrates Ada Lovelace at a dedicated festival, women in tech conferences and summits everywhere. Moreover, there are even women in technology scholarships dedicated to Ada Lovelace – such as the Ada Lovelace Excellence Scholarship.
Hedy Lamarr was an Austrian-American actress and inventor who pioneered the technology that would one day form the basis for today’s WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth communication systems. In 1942, Lamarr and her husband created an extraordinary new communication system used with the intention of guiding torpedoes to their targets in war. The system involved the use of “frequency hopping” amongst radio waves, with both transmitter and receiver hopping to new frequencies together. Doing so prevented the interception of the radio waves, thereby allowing the torpedo to find its intended target.
Lamarr is a particular role model of mine as she proved there’s no choice between beauty and brains, with her career as an actress, and that’s always been something I’ve struggled with.
Despite NACA expanding its effort to include African-American women during World War II, it wasn’t until 1953 that Katherine Johnson joined the committee as a mathematical calculator. Her calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed spaceflights.
Katherine Johnson is significant in my life as her work and injustices were unheard of until portrayed within Hidden Figures. The true story touched me wholeheartedly and reminded me why I should keep working within my passions.
Karen Spärck Jones
Karen Sparck Jones’ paper in the Journal of Documentation laid the groundwork for the modern search engine. In 1972, she combined statistics with linguistics — an unusual approach at the time — to establish formulas that embodied principles for how computers could interpret relationships between words.
The idea of “googling” something would very much mean nothing with Sparck Jones, and I find her story incredible considering she’s from Huddersfield (less than an hours drive from my hometown).
Adele Goldberg is a computer scientist who participated in developing the programming language Smalltalk-80 and various concepts related to object-oriented programming while a researcher at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, in the 1970s. It is here, in 1973, this woman in tech helped introduce a programming environment of overlapping windows on graphic display screens. Eventually, influencing the modern day graphic user interface (GUI).
In 1984, Radia Perlman developed the Spanning Tree Protocol which penned her as the “Mother of the Internet” – something I’m extremely grateful for as a millennial. Perlman is so much more than that though: a network engineer and software designer with a Ph.D. in computer science from MIT, she has made numerous contributions to the Internet as we know it and holds more than 80 related patents.
One of my favourite downtimes is playing video games – and my favourite kind? Adventure. Back in the 1980/90s, Roberta Williams was one of the most influential PC game designers and has been credited with creating the graphic adventure genre.
Not your typical woman in tech, initially, Williams was a storyteller and had zero experience with technology; in general famous women in tech posts, Williams is sometimes a little forgotten about, but she has a perfect example of a modern career shift.
Victoria Alonso moved to the US on her own at the age of 19, working her way up through the VFX industry. Fast Forward to 2011, and she had advanced to executive producer on the blockbuster hit The Avengers and has since executively produced many of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. Not only that, from VFX artist, Alonso is now the Vice President of Film Production at Marvel. Anyone who knows me understands that’s a huge deal in my world!
In 2014, Danielle George, professor at the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, University of Manchester spoke at the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures on the subject of “how to hack your home”, describing simple experiments involving computer hardware and demonstrating a giant game of Tetris by remote controlling lights in an office building.
Interested in hacking and information security myself, this was a fun and early example which piqued my interest in the subject.
The history of women in technology is rich with untold stories from a diverse range of females. Remembering them is a way to get inspired and appreciate the history behind our current opportunities, because sometimes we think a woman has never done something before – when really 100 women have and one man took all the credit.
Who are some of the women in technology who have touched your life?