The tech industry might be a male-dominated but women have made invaluable contributions that have helped not only the industry but society at large. This Women’s Month we look at a few of the incredible women behind some of the biggest innovations in our field.
Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace
Better known as Ada Lovelace, Augusta is considered the world’s first computer programmer. While translating a lecture by Charles Babbage about his Analytical Engine, the first general purpose computer which used punch cards for input and output. Agusta added her own notes, which ended up being much longer than the actual transcript. What she had done was propose a way for the engine to calculate Bernoulli Numbers. Besides being the first programmer, Agusta had the foresight to realise that the machine could manipulate more than numbers, by manipulating data represented by numbers. She even went as far to say that these machines would be used to compose music, create graphics and aid the advancement of science; all of which rings true a decade later.
Grace Hopper is a truly exceptional woman. Not only was she the first woman to reach the rank of Rear Admiral in the US Navy, but while doing so she also created the world’s first computer compiler and the first English-like programming language, FLOW-MATIC, and was an architect for COBOL, which is still in use today. Grace not only broke boundaries in technology but was also the oldest serving military officer at the time of her retirement, with a career that was perceived to be impossible for a woman at the time. Her military career is a testament to tenacity; she became the first female Rear Admiral despite not meeting the height and weight requirements and her application being denied twice.
With over 100 patents behind her name and three MIT degrees, Radia Perlman is a pioneer who has shaped the internet as we know it today. Despite her many accolades, including the invention of STP, she is a reluctant celebrity, humbly refusing her title as “Mother of the Internet”. Her work in network protocols have given us the robust, scalable and easily managed networks we rely on every day. STP made it possible to link individual Ethernet networks to one massive system, essentially birthing the internet.
Dorothy Vaughan was an exceptionally gifted mathematician who spent her career keeping America ahead of the curve during the space race. She graduated from high school at the age of only 15 before completing a degree in mathematics and becoming a teacher. During WWII she traded her teaching job for a post at NASA’s West Area Computing Unit, becoming the very first black woman to lead the West Computers in just six years. Dorothy quickly realised that electronic computers would soon make her and her team redundant and took it upon herself to learn programming and teach her colleagues her new skills, effectively saving their careers. Her work helped to develop one of NASA’s most reliable launch vehicles, SCOUT, responsible for at least 23 satellites for international space organisations.