Every March, we celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day. But let’s be honest, why is it just a month? As far as we’re concerned, every day, week, and month are great times to celebrate women around the world. Still, we won’t let the opportunity to tout some awesome women in tech pass us by. So this month, we’re diving into the past to celebrate the pioneers who set the stage for us as we look to the future.
You’ve likely heard the names of many of these great women in tech, but how well do you know them? Let’s take a little trip back through the history of CS.
The daughter of the “Princess of Parallelograms,” Annabella Milbanke and Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace is often referred to as the first programmer. Born in 1815, she was tutored in mathematics from a young age, encouraged by her STEM-minded mother. Ada pursued her love and talent for math into her teens with mentors Mary Sommerville and Charles Babbage. At 27, she published her notes (and translation) on the Analytical Engine in which she described a stepwise sequence of operations for programming. Her forward thinking even saw past the limitations of her time, theorizing that the Engine could extend beyond numerical values and function beyond calculation to computation.
Grace Hopper was a US Naval Rear Admiral and computer scientist. In 1928 she completed her Bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics at Vassar before earning a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale University in 1934. During WWII, Grace joined the Navy Reserves and became one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer. She went on to contribute to the development of UNIVAC I, the first commercial electronic computer, invented one of the first linkers, and popularized the idea of machine-independent programming languages. Her pioneering vision for CS was to evolve past numerical programming and develop a programming language written in English led to the development of COBOL, which we still use today.
Perhaps best known in recent years as the “hidden figure” behind NASA, Katherine Johnson is a pioneering mathematician whose contribution enabled the successful first U.S. manned space flights. In 1952 Katherine joined NACA’s – the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, soon to become NASA – Langley laboratory. She did trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s May 1961 mission Freedom 7, America’s first human spaceflight, setting the stage for more manned missions. As you’ve probably seen in the film Hidden Figures, it was Katherine’s calculations for orbital trajectories for John Glenn’s flight that cemented the success of her many contributions to NASA. In 2015, at age 97, Katherine was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama.
Building off the incredible accomplishments of Ada, Grace, and Katherine, Anita Borg led the way for many of today’s women in tech. The founder of the Institute for Women and Technology, and the creator of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, Anita was a great advocate for women in tech. After earning her Ph.D. in computer science, she founded Systers in 1987. This online community for women was a safe space for women in STEM roles to share their challenges (and successes) from working in their fields. Anita went on to co-found the Grace Hopper Celebration, and the IWT. Her passion for supporting other women in tech, and providing resources, community, and advocacy for closing the gender gap has set up a bright path forward for where women in tech are today.
It was in the spirit of these trailblazing women that the LadyCoders Conference came to be. We can’t wait to hear the empowering stories of more revolutionary women in the industry and share our skills, support, and inspiration at the conference and beyond!