Today marks the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. All throughout history it is safe to say that men have made their mark in STEM areas, however women have contributed to a lot of programming languages and helped change the male-dominated field. Generally, women’s contributions are left out or unheard of, so we take a look at the 10 most famous women that have changed the technology landscape:
Ada Lovelace was born in London in 1815. She was home schooled by tutors and her mother who also insisted that she was taught science and maths. Her mother’s insistence proved to be fruitful as she is now referred to as the first programmer. She is thought to be the first programmer due to her written notes that explained how the notion of a specific engine could transition calculation to computation. As one of the most famous women in technology, Ada also has a day dedicated to her which falls on the second Tuesday in October.
Grace Hopper was born in New York in 1906. She attended Yale University in 1930 and eventually received a PHD in Mathematics. She joined the Naval Reserve in 1943 from which she retired in 1966. During her time there she joined the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corp where she designed a compiler that translated programmer’s instructions into computer codes. In 1957, her division developed the first English language data processing complier. After she retired she was recalled to help standardise the navy’s computer languages and at the age of 79, she was known as the oldest navy officer before fully retiring in 1986.
Grace was awarded several awards for her contributions, one of them being given to her by Barack Obama as the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.
Born in 1933 in Birmingham Alabama, Annie Easley attended Xavier University. Shortly after finishing her studies she met her husband and moved to Cleveland. There is where her life changed for the better. She applied for a job at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and within 2 weeks started working there. She was one of four African Americans who worked there and developed and implemented code which led to the development of the batteries used in hybrid cars. Aside from her aforementioned contributions, she is also known for encouraging women and ethnic minorities to study and enter STEM fields.
Born in 1937 in Chicago, Mary Wilkes graduated from Wellesley College in 1959 with a degree in philosophy. Her aim initially was to become a law, but was discouraged by those close to her due to the challenges women faced in the field. She is best known for her work with the LINC computer, which is now recognised as the world’s first “personal computer”.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Adele Goldberg is a computer scientist who participated in developing the programming language Smalltalk-80 and various concepts related to object-oriented programming while being a researches at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in the 70s. Not only that, but a lot of her work was also used as the basis for the first Macintosh Desktops by Steve Jobs.
Mary Keller, born in 1913 was perhaps surprisingly a roman catholic nun. In 1958 she started at the National Science Foundation workshop in the computer science department at Dartmouth College. An all-male school at the time, she teamed up with two other scientists and went on to develop the BASIC computer programming language.
In 1965 Mary earned her PHD in Computer Science from the University of Michigan, then went on to develop a computer science department at Clarke College, a women’s catholic college. She chaired the department for two decades, during her time there she was an advocate for women in technology and supported working mothers by encouraging them to bring their babies to class with them. She is the first woman to receive a PHD in computer science.
Born in 1951 in New Jersey, Radia Perlman attended MIT where she took up programming for a physics class. Working under the supervision of Seymour Papert, Radia developed a child-friendly version of the educational robotics language LOGO, called TORTIS (“Toddler’s Own Recursive Turtle Interpreter System”). During research performed in the mid 70s, young children programmed a LOGO educational robot called a Turtle. She was described as a pioneer of teaching young children computer programming.
Radia however is perhaps most famous for her invention of the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP), which a fundamental to the operation of network bridges. Due to this work she is known as the “mother of the internet”.
Born in 1918, Katherine is an American mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were pivotal to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. spaceflights. Throughout her 35-year career at NASA (and its predecessor) she was known for mastering complex manual calculations and helped pioneer the use of computers to perform the tasks. NASA has noted her “historical role as one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist”.
Her work included calculating trajectories, launch windows and emergency return paths for Project Mercury spaceflights. Her calculations were also essential to the start of the Space Shuttle program, also working on plans for a mission to Mars. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 by President Barack Obama.
Karen Spärck Jones
Born in 1935, Karen Spärck Jones was a pioneering British computer scientist who came up with the concept of inverse document frequency, a technology that underlies most modern search engines.
Throughout her career, Sparck Jones worked at the Cambridge Language research Unit, then at Cambridge University Computer Laboratory until her retirement in 2002. Her main research interests, from the 50s onwards were natural language processing and information retrieval. In 2019 the New York Times published a belated obituary in its series titled “Overlooked” in which they called her "a pioneer of computer science for work combining statistics and linguistics, and an advocate for women in the field."
Born in 1931, Feinler is an American information scientist. From 1972 to 1989 she was director of the Network Information Systems Centre at the Stanford Research Institute. Her group operated the NIC (Network Information Centre) for the ARPANET as it evolved into the Defence Data Network (DDN) and the Internet.