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Posts Tagged ‘female programmers’

It goes without saying that women are a rarity in tech. If you look at the list of the greatest programmers of all time, they are almost entirely filled with white men.

Most of us don’t realise that beginning with Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron and the founder of scientific computing as we know it, women have been part of the tech industry ever since its inception. In fact, there have been many women who made extraordinary careers in the field and pushed the tech industry forward, but whose stories never made it to the public and their achievements have been undermined due to sexism.

Here are three great pioneers that clearly demonstrate the importance of women in tech and its history.

Radia Perlman

Known as the ‘Mother of the Internet’, Radia Perlman is one of the people without whose work the Internet as we know it wouldn’t exist. She is responsible for inventing the spanning tree protocol (STP) which is key to the functioning of network bridges.

The protocol prevents repeating information and action when the network is shared by one or more machines. That problem is also known as bridge looping.

Perlman doesn’t like her nickname because she believes that the Internet couldn’t have been created by a single individual, but rather by the collective effort of dispersed groups of people who looked for similar solutions at the same time.

But Perlman’s upbringing certainly played a role in her contributions to the tech industry – her mother was a programmer. An MIT graduate, Perelman registered more than a hundred patents for all kinds of technologies.

Hedy Lamarr

A look at Hedy Lamarr would never make you think that she could be the inventor behind the spread spectrum technology. Lamarr was a movie star and beauty icon in the 1930s. But that’s just one side of her public persona. The other was hidden from sight for many years.

Not many people know that there was more to Lamarr than amazing looks.

She was also an inventor and engineer. In fact, one of her inventions allowed to create an unbreakable code that would prevent classified messages from being intercepted by the enemy.

The machine regulated radiofrequency at irregular intervals between the transmission and reception, helping the US military at the time and building the foundation of the modern spread spectrum communication technologies (think Bluetooth), the CNDA (used in wireless telephones), or COFDM (used in Wi-Fi network connections).

But Lamarr wasn’t recognized for her achievement until much later and even today her inventions are casually dismissed even if they are widely used.

Betty Holberton and the ENIAC Six

The ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer) might not sound familiar but it was in fact the very first general-purpose digital computer. It was built for a project carried out by the US Army as part of the secret World War II project.

The computer was developed at a time when the field has not been masculinized yet and women were welcomed to assist with the war efforts. In fact, they often served as the so-called operating calculating machines.

That’s how a group of six women later called the ENIAC girls was recruited by a male engineers to assist in the programming of the computer. These women learned how to program without any kind of tools or books on the subject. By the time they finished their work, the machine was able to run ballistics tragic story in mere seconds.

One of the ENIAC programmers, Betty Holberton, insisted that they introduce a stop instruction in the machine. It was initially dismissed, but she managed to convince the supervising engineer that the programmer needs such an instruction. Today we know she was right.

When the computer was unveiled to the public in 1946, the female programmers remained in the background, invisible.

Considering the long history of women in technology, it’s hard to believe that female engineers still make up for the minor part in today’s workforce. Even if they manage to rise to executive positions or create breathtaking inventions, their achievements are often still undervalued.

Luckily, the involvement of female programmers and other specialists in technological development expands proportionately to the scientific progress. For example, many women are active in cutting-edge areas such as VR or artificial intelligence. It is our obligation to support the presence of women in tech and keep a close eye on the activities of those who are now leading the tech industry toward its future.

©2017, Thomas Raynott.

Thomas is an app developer at Ready4s and a fan of everything tech-related. He is also interested in the correspondences between technological history and gender bias. When he isn’t working on new apps he likes to share his views by writing articles.