history of women in technology

Have you ever heard of Ada Lovelace? If you said no, you’re probably not alone. What about Grace Hopper? No again? Well, what about Steve Jobs? Steve Wozniak? Bill Gates? The last three are almost all undoubtedly yeses.

As we round out the end of March, another Women’s History Month is coming to a close. Knowing that I am a CEO in the tech world and a woman made me want to dig deeper into the history of coding, especially the women who’ve been behind the scenes in setting up the technological world as we know it right now.

1842: Ada Lovelace (1815–1852) was an analyst of Charles Babbage‘s analytical engine and considered by many the “first computer programmer.” She was the daughter of Lord Byron and was pushed into the fields of science and math by her mother who did not want her to become a romantic poet. Seems legit.

1946: Betty Jennings, Betty Snyder, Frances Spence, Kay McNulty, Marlyn Wescoff, and Ruth Lichterman were the regularly working programmers of the ENIAC. Adele Goldstine, also involved in the programming, wrote the program manual for the ENIAC. The ENIAC was one of the first computers that used a system of punch cards and was as big as a large room.

1949: Grace Hopper (1906–1992), was a United States Navy officer and one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I, known as the “Mother of COBOL“. She developed the first compiler for an electronic computer, known as A-0. She also popularized the term “debugging” – a reference to a moth extracted from a relay in the Harvard Mark II computer. One of the things you’ll notice in the post WW2 era is that a large number of women were incredibly well-trained mathematical minds. At this time, many women were math majors and had advanced degrees in math. This enabled many of them to make the jump into software and programming.

1950: Ida Rhodes (1900–1986) was one of the pioneers in the analysis of systems of programming. She co-designed the C-10 language in the early 1950s for the UNIVAC I – a computer system that was used to calculate the census.

1962: Jean E. Sammet (1928–), developed the FORMAC programming language. She was also the first to write extensively about the history and categorization of programming languages in 1969, and became the first female president of the Association for Computing Machinery in 1974.

1971: Erna Schneider Hoover (1926–) is an American mathematician notable for inventing a computerized telephone switching method which developed modern communication, according to several reports. At Bell Laboratories, where she worked for over 32 years, Hoover was described as an important pioneer for women in the field of computer technology.

1983: Janese Swanson (1958–) (with others) developed the first of the Carmen Sandiego games. She went on to found Girl Tech. Girl Tech develops products and services that encourage girls to use new technologies, such as the Internet and video games. Personally, I freaking loved the Carmen Sandiego games and feel personally indebted to her.

1984: Susan Kare (1954–), created the icons and many of the interface elements for the original Apple Macintosh in the 1980s, and was an original employee of NeXT, working as the Creative Director.

1999: Marissa Mayer (1975–), was the first female engineer hired at Google, and was later named Vice President of Search Product and User Experience. She is currently the CEO of Yahoo!. Despite her qualifications, in many articles about her, they detail her outfits, her baby bumps, and how long she spent on maternity leave with her kids. These items were never featured in articles about Bill Gates, which goes to show that we still have an immensely long way to go.

And the list gets longer and longer as you flesh things out through the late 80’s, 90’s, and 2000’s, and will continue to do so with the plethora of organizations that are pushing to help increase the number of girls and women involved in coding, technology, and computers in the years to come. One of our favorites? Girls Who Code – check it out and see how you can help. So there’s your crash course in women in tech through the ages. We sincerely hope this list gets significantly longer in the years to come.

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