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Thought Computer Science Was a Male-Dominated Field? Think Again!

Too often do Women get left out when we talk about history, so today we are taking the time to highlight some awesome women involved in the history of computer science. Check out some of the women we have to thank for modern technology!

Ada Lovelace – The first ever computer programmer (from all the way back in the 1800s!)

“Imagination is the discovering faculty, preeminently. It is that which penetrates into the unseen worlds around us, the worlds of science.”

Ada was working as a translator for an Italian engineer when she was inspired to write an algorithm to computer Bernoulli numbers with his machine. This is considered the first ever computer programming. Her work laid the foundation for computer programming. She only lived to the age of 36, but her accomplishments continue her legacy as we use computer programming in so many areas of life. She even predicted this success in her notes, anticipating that the machine would be able to create music and graphics.

 

Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley – A woman entrepreneur and computer science extraordinaire. She went by Steve to break through the glass barrier without people realizing.

“You can always tell ambitious women by the shape of our heads: They’re flat on top for being patted patronizingly.”

All the way back in the 1960s, Steve started an all-woman software company. The women would write code by hand in their own homes! She created the space for women to work in this field and pioneered the idea of women going back into the computer science world after marrying and having children. Ultimately her company was worth 3 billion dollars, showing the world that women in computer science could make a big difference in the industry. Check out more about her from her TED talk here.

Dame Stephanie Shirley speaks at TED2015 - Truth and Dare, Session 5, March 16-20, 2015, Vancouver Convention Center, Vancouver, Canada. Photo: James Duncan Davidson/TED

Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley speaks at TED

Hedy Lamarr – A superstar who you can thank for your ability to binge Netflix in bed.

“Hope and curiosity about the future seemed better than guarantees. That’s the way I was. The unknown was always so attractive to me… and still is.”

Hedy wanted to contribute to the war efforts during WWII, so she created a secret communication system to jam communication to radio-controlled torpedoes to veer them off-course. It was not used during WWII because of lack of technology to make her vision work at a large scale. However, this technology eventually evolved into GPS, wifi, and Bluetooth technology. She rejected the idea that women should be put in a box as she spanned from actress to inventor.

Katherine Johnson – From child genius to NASA scientist to race and gender barrier breaker, Katherine definitely does not fit into a box!

“Know how to learn. Then, want to learn”

She graduated high school by 14, at a time when schools were segregated, and few Black students stayed past 8th grade. By the time she was 35, NASA hired her to work as a human computer. She calculated the trajectory for Project Mercury and Apollo 11, the first human-manned flights into space and to the moon. She continued to help NASA on many missions up until her retirement in 1993. These accomplishments and her superior ability in mathematics show that women and especially women of color should not have to stand in the background in computer science fields.

Katherine Johnson