women in tech history

When you hear the words “tech innovator” it’s likely you imagine the young, breezily confident Silicone Valley start-up bro, or figures like Alan Turing or Steve Jobs. It’s unlikely you’re thinking of a womanthough women are central to the history of computing.

In 1843, Ada Lovelace published an algorithm for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine – her work is now considered the first software written for a computer, subsequently making Lovelace the first computer programmer in history.

The term “computer” didn’t even refer to machines originally. Dating back to the late nineteenth century, computers (or “human computers”) described people who performed long, complex calculations on paper – and this job often fell to women who were less expensive to employ.

The “Harvard Computers” for instance, were a group of eighty women who processed large amounts of astronomical data at the Harvard Observatory under director Edward Charles Pickering in the late 19th century. Their efforts would transform astronomical study and inform the works of astronomers like Edwin Hubble.

The involvement of women in computation became a standard – to the degree that computing power was measured in units of kilo-girl hours. WWII only increased computational demands. In the US, the urgency to quickly calculate missile trajectories led to the development of ENIAC, the Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer: the first programmable computer.

Its programmers were a group of six women called the “ENIAC girls”. Despite originally having limited access to the highly classified military machine, the women successfully programmed the machine into operation relying solely on blueprints and diagrams. These women were Fran Bilas, Jean Jennings, Ruth Lichterman, Kay McNulty, Betty Snyder, and Marlyn Wescoff. They went largely unacknowledged for their efforts at the time.

Though women continued entering computer science after WWII, the trend peaked in the 1980s. Since then, the number of women studying the subject and entering the field started seeing a steady and steep decline (just see this chart at NPR). 

The gender disparity in computer science is a growing one. In 2015, only 18% of computer science degrees were received by women in the US. Meanwhile in the UK, despite an overall increase, female students still make only 17% of the total number of students who enroll into computer science programs, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

Though the gap may be alarming there are organizations working towards making computer science more welcoming to women. To celebrate the contributions women have made to world of tech over the years, we look at five technologies intrinsic to our digital lives that wouldn’t have existed without the incredible women behind them.

Wendy Hall: Hyperlinks

Gladys West: GPS

Hedy Lamarr: Bluetooth & Wi-Fi

Karen Spärck Jones: Search Engine

Dr Adele Goldberg: Graphic User Interface (GUI)


Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn’t affect our editorial independence. Learn more.

Source link


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here