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March Guest Blog: Women of Technology By Stephanie Styons, SVP at Racepoint Global

In February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8, 1980 as National Women’s History Week.

President Carter wrote, “From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who be-friended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.” 

Seven years later, Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month. The month is set aside to honor women’s contributions to American history.

Since it is National Women’s History Month, it seems only fitting to take a look back at some of the amazing women who have made significant contributions to the world of technology.

Ada Lovelace

Born in 1815 and the only child of renowned poet Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace (also known as the Countess of Lovelace) is said to have written algorithms for the first computer in the mid-19th century. Lovelace started in programming by studying Charles Babbage’s mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. She studied the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine—which is why she is known as the first computer programmer. While Babbage’s focus was on the computer’s capabilities for number-crunching, Lovelace took the approach of ‘poetical science’ and asked questions about how people and society relate to technology as a collaborative tool.

Grace Murray Hopper

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper was one of the first programmers in history. In the late 1940s, Hopper worked at the Harvard Computation Lab as part of the Navy Reserve, programming the Mark 1 computer that brought speed and accuracy to military initiatives. She later worked at Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corp. a senior mathematician. Hopper helped develop the UNIVAC I computer, the first business-oriented machine. Hopper developed the first compiler and was one of the architects of a "new compiled computer language" called COBOL. Most notably, Hopper credited with the idea that computer code could be written and read like language.

Henrietta Swan Leavitt

In 1893, Henrietta Leavitt worked at the Harvard College Observatory as a “computer”.  She performed math calculations before computers did them for us. While at Harvard, Leavitt discovered the relationship between the luminosity and the period of Cepheid variable stars. This discovery was hugely influential and led to Edwin Hubble’s discovery that the universe is expanding — what we now call Hubble’s Law.

Katherine G. Johnson 

A physicist and mathematician, Katherine Johnson worked at National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACAs) which later became NASA.  Johnson took one of the open positions at the all-black West Area Computing area, climbing her way up the ranks quickly due to her impressive aptitude for mathematics. She would calculate trajectories, launch windows, and return paths for space flights. During her 35-year career at NASA, Johnson aided with Project Mercury (the first man to fly into space), Apollo 11 (the first flight to the moon) and the Space Shuttle program (plans for a mission to Mars). In 2015, Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States, by President Barack Obama.

Annie Easley

We have to thank Annie Easley for the initial code that led to the invention of the battery technology, used for early hybrid vehicles. Easley conducted computations for researchers at NASA, where she was one of the four African-American employees. 

Carol Shaw

Considered the first female video game designer and programmer, Carol Shaw is most famous for her 1982 game River Raid. Shaw also contributed to 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe (1979) and Video Checkers (1980), among many others. Her unpublished 1978 Polo is the first documented game designed and programmed by a woman. Shaw was an integral member of the Atari team from its earliest days, leaving an indelible mark on the video game industry.

Susan Kare

Building on the GUI inspired by Adele Goldberg's team at PARC, Susan Kare is responsible for some of Apple's signature graphics, which still used to this day. A graphic designer, Kare also developed the idea that the graphics should be easily readable symbols, correlating to real world objects. This resulted in the Apple clock, the pointer finger, and the trash can. Kare even created the Apple "command" key which is inspired by a Swedish symbol for a castle.

Radia Perlman

A software designer and network engineer by trade, Radia Perlman’s most famous invention is the spanning-tree protocol. Spanning-tree protocol is a network protocol that ensures a loop-free topology for any bridged Ethernet local area network. Additionally, Perlman has more than 50 patents, authored textbooks about networking and network security and pioneered teaching youths programming.

Sister Mary Kenneth Keller

The first woman in the United States to earn a PhD in computer science, Sister Keller developed the BASIC programming language (Beginners All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) at Darmouth. Keller established the computer science department at Clarke College (a Catholic college for women), championing the future careers of young women working in STEM.

Women all over the country and the world continue to play significant roles in the technology industry. In fact, North Carolina is the #1 state for percentage of women in technology – women make up 33.5% of the workforce. As we honor the great women in our history, let’s also acknowledge the amazing women in today’s technology industry. 


Sources: Mashable, The Muse, The ICS Newsletter, Women of Silicon Roundabout, the NC State of Technology report.



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