In this series, we will explore the history, victories, compensation trends and powerful women in the IT field. According to the Global Knowledge 2014 IT Skills and Salary Report, women are outnumbered three and a half to one in the field, a number that hasn’t significantly increased in the past five years of the survey. Although the minority, women continue to shape the IT world as a driving force, which they’ve done now for over a century.
By 1843, Ada Lovelace had finished translating Luigi Menabrea’s analytical engine; her notes included the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine. Because of her work, she is often described as the world’s first computer programmer. Another notable “first” for women in technology includes Grace Hopper, the first woman to graduate from Yale with a Ph.D. in mathematics in 1930. Hopper, also one of the first female programmers, went on to invent the first computer complier and develop Common Business-Oriented Language (COBOL).
Ten years after Grace Hooper graduated from Yale, a group of women known as the Ladies of ENIAC (Kay McNulty, Marilyn Wescoff, Fran Bilas, Ruth Lichterman, Adele Goldstine and Betty Snyder) were developing the first software application and the first programming classes. The ENIAC was the first all-electronic digital computer that was built by the U.S. government as a classified project, consisting of approximately 18,000 vacuum tubes and 40 black eight-foot panels. These six women calculated firing and bomb trajectories while determining the correct sequence of steps to complete each problem, which required them to physically program the ballistics program by using the 3,000 switches and dozens of cables and digit trays to route the data and program pulses through the machine.
Another female pioneer in the technology industry, Jean Sammet, became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in computer science at Stanford. Sammet also developed the first widely used computer language, Formula Manipulation Compiler (FORMAC). In 1950, Betty Holberton, known for writing the first programming system (SORT/MERGE) and the first statistical analysis package for the U.S. Census, developed the numeric keypad. Frances Allen, recognized as the first IBM Fellow in 1989, assisted with intelligence work in programming languages and security codes for the NSA and later became the first female recipient of the Turning Award.
Women continued to advance the technology community as Radia Perlman, a software designer and network engineer, was named the “Mother of the Internet” as she invented the spanning-tree protocol (STP), which allows for a loop-free topology for any bridged Ethernet local area network. Currently employed by EMC Corporation, Pearlman is also recognized for her work in network design and standardization with the development of link state protocols (including TRILL). In the video game world, Carol Shaw and Carla Meninsky became the first female video game designers for popular games such as “Indy 500,” “River Raid,” “3-D Tic-Tac-Toe” and “Star Raiders.”
Until 2007, no women had ever been presented with the Lovelace Medal until Karen Jones, founder of information retrieval, accepted the award for her outstanding contribution to the advancement of computing. Jones developed the concept of inverse document frequency (IDF) weighting in information retrieval, which is still used in most search engines today.
Women are responsible for many significant contributions leading to the advancement of technology, propelling the IT and business fields forward and paving the way for future generations of women to contribute their technological intelligence, skills and innovations to the field.
This is the first article of three in our series called Women in Tech. In our next article, we’ll explore the contemporary landscape for women in the technology industry.
Contributing author: Megan Bok