The impact of women in technology is one that SkyWire celebrates daily and we are pleased to present this three-part series, documenting the accomplishments of women in the technology sector. In part one of the series, we start with the women who paved the way.
Women are no strangers to technology. In fact, did you know that computing was once regarded as a feminized role? Women made up the largest trained technical workforce from World War II to the 1970s. Once seen as the ordinary worker to operate computers, within tech, women are now achieving the status and recognition that they finally deserve. But how did we get here? Who from our past has paved the way for the future of women in technology? And who will continue to pave the way for generations of women in the future? Let’s discover these historical female trailblazers and pioneers in technology:
ADA LOVELACE (1815-1852, U.K.)
Ada Lovelace, circa 1840. Credit:Hulton ArchiveGetty Images
Though technology officially introduced computer programming in its next century, Ada Lovelace is known to be the first computer programmer in the world. How did she do it? Well, her mentor, ‘the father of the computer,’ Charles Babbage had a theory of an invention during the mid-1800s that Ada commented on. Ada noted that the machine would possibly be able to handle calculations, complex in nature. She also suggested that code could be created, using letters, numbers, and symbols. One of her inventions was a device that would able to repeat the series’ of instructions. This is now called ‘looping.’ Just about all computer programs now use looping. These concepts, along with other concepts Ada coined, have landed her a computer language. It’s called, ‘Ada,’ which the U.S. Department of Defense named after her.
EDITH CLARKE (1883 – 1959, USA)
Edith Clarke was an orphan at the age of 12, but she was determined. Using her inheritance, she studied mathematics and astronomy. She became the first woman to achieve a master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in electrical engineering. Edith invented the Clarke calculator. The Clarke calculator enabled engineers to do calculations as many as ten times faster than methods available during the time. With her electrical expertise, she was able to help build the Hoover Dam. No wonder her calculations, by hand to model long-distance electrical transmission systems, got Edith named a ‘human-computer.’
GRACE HOPPER (1906 – 1992, USA)
Grace Hopper was an American computer scientist. She was also a U.S. Navy Rear Admiral. She believed that more people would try computer programming if the programs were done in English. That is because computers used only to use binary code. Binary code is a pattern of ones and zeroes. They are often confusing to the reader, and most people struggle to decipher the code. To prove her point, that programs could be done in English, she invented some English programming languages. Today we know Grace Hopper as the ‘Queen of Software’ as she developed the Common Business-Oriented Language (COBOL). COBOL is used to make a number of business applications to this day.
KATHERINE JOHNSON (1918 – Current, USA)
Katherine Johnson is and always will be remembered as a pioneer in Aeronautics. She started at NASA as a progenitor for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in 1953. She calculated flight paths to space. She also worked for Alan Shepard (known as the first American in space), in 1961 doing the trajectory analysis. She did everything manually, meaning, by hand. She was able to compute the trajectory equations. This work would bring the John Glenn Friendship 7 mission upfront during the space race between the USA and the USSR. Other notable missions? She worked on the Apollo moon landing. She also saw the start of the Space Shuttle program. In 2015 she was decorated with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the United States of America’s highest civilian honor. Katherine will go down in history, saying, “I counted everything. I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed…”
MARGARET HAMILTON (1936 – Current, USA)
Margaret Hamilton is known for designing the onboard flight software for Neil Armstrong and the Apollo mission. She made it possible for the mission to land on the moon. She is also famous for coining the term, “software engineering” as she boosted the credibility and respect for this scientific discipline that many women are going on to learn to this day. Margaret is known for being of the first women to propel the United States into the space age. Over the years, she has also picked up Medal of Freedom honors.
RADIA PERLMAN (1951 – Current, USA)
Though she does not prefer the phrase and insists no one can lay claim, Radia Perlman is known as the ‘mother of the internet.’ How did she do it? A mathematician and inventor, Radia invented the spanning-tree protocol. The spanning-tree protocol is the traffic pattern in which the internet flows, which made it possible for Ethernet technology to pave the way. Without her, the internet would not be what it is today. That being said, Radia holds more than 80 internet-related patents to this day.
MEG WHITMAN (1956 – Current, USA)
Currently the CEO of the new short-form video platform, Quibi, Meg Whitman has been trailblazing her way in the tech industry since the 90's. Have you ever heard of Hewlett Packard? Meg was CEO from 2011 to 2015 prior to entering the tech scene in the late ’90s at eBay. She started there when it only had 30 employees. Can you imagine? She grew the digital retail place to 15,000 employees and turned in an annual revenue of $8 billion after being at eBay for only a decade.
MITCHELL BAKER (1959 – Current, USA)
Open source software is a staple. In fact, Mitchell Baker is the woman responsible for helping to bring open source internet applications into popularity. She’s the founding chairperson of the Mozilla Foundation, which is where the Firefox web browser comes from. She’s also paved the way for other open source apps and projects such as GitHub and HTML5. As a trailblazer in her arena, she has inspired thousands of other developers and women in tech and will continue to through her reign.
Hope you enjoyed part-one of SkyWire's Women in Technology blog series. Next week we will explore the growth of women in the technology industry.