The technology industry has a rich history of women making significant contributions to the advancement of the sector.
Here are the top five women in tech history, to inspire the next generation of women to compete in the tech space and, in doing so, create new role models.
Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) – The prophet of computer age
Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace was an English mathematician and writer, chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine – which served as a precursor to the modern computer.
Although she earned little public recognition during her lifetime, Ada Lovelace is now considered a pioneer and prophet of the computer age.
Grace Hopper (1906-1992) – The queen of software
Grace Hopper joined the U.S. Navy during World War II and was assigned to program the Harvard Mark I computer. She continued to work in computing after the war, leading the team that created the first computer language compiler, which led to the popular COBOL language. Her pioneering attitude extended throughout her career. She worked on UNIVAC I – the first commercial computer in the US – and is also credited with coining the term ‘computer bug’.
Hopper also invented FLOW-MATIC – the first English-like data processing language – which sparked the development of COBOL, which became the Navy’s standard operating language.
She resumed active naval service at the age of 60, becoming a rear admiral before retiring in 1986.
Radia Perlman (1951-) – ‘The mother of the internet’
Radia Perlman created the algorithm behind the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP), which is a crucial part of the internet’s underlying foundation. Despite this, she insists the “internet was not invented by any individual”.
“In engineering, the point is to get the job done, and people are happy to help. You should be generous with credit, and you should be happy to help others.”
More recently she has invented the TRILL protocol to correct some of the shortcomings of spanning-trees. She is currently employed by Dell EMC.
Sister Mary Kenneth Keller (1913-1985) – First female computer science PhD
A truly inspirational female role model, Sister Mary Kenneth Keller established herself as a strong influence in the world of computer science at a time when women in the field were unheard of and was the first woman to receive a PhD in Computer Science.
She knew that the world was “having an information explosion… and information is of no use unless it’s available,” and challenged the “men-only” rule in choosing to study mathematics and computer science.
Indeed, her bold contribution made computer use and the study of STEM subjects more accessible and appealing to women across the US and the world.
Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson (1918-) – Stargazer
Katherine Johnson is a mathematician who made significant contributions to the United States’ aeronautics and space programs.
When asked to name her greatest contribution to space exploration, Johnson talks about the calculations that helped sync Project Apollo’s Lunar Lander with the moon-orbiting Command and Service Module.
President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honour.
HOW CAN WE HELP!
The issue of gender imbalance in the technology industry is still significant, but companies and diversity-orientated events are working hard to close this gap.
The tech industry needs more women, and there are several ways in which organisations can make this happen.
- Rolling out the welcome mat. A welcoming and supportive environment makes women technologists get comfortable in their tech roles quicker.
- Providing opportunities to learn and grow. Providing opportunities for reskilling and upskilling, entrusting women with more job responsibilities, and taking their interests and strengths into consideration give credence to the fact that their opinion is valued.
- Elevating women in the workplace. Conducting workshops and facilitating gatherings where women can network with other women and find mentors and role models can go a long way in effecting change.
- Worker-friendly policies. Providing flexible work schedules, positive work-life balance, and opportunities to take career breaks as well as opportunities for re-starting careers will allow women more flexibility to manage their tech pursuits.
- Eliminating bias. Eliminating bias in both tech recruitment and the workplace, maintaining pay parity, providing equal advancement opportunities, and providing a welcoming environment to women and minorities will help them continue longer in their tech careers.