Women in Computer Science: A Brief History

During the 1960’s in America, software engineering was actually seen as “women’s work”. It wasn’t until men realized that it was actually a very difficult task and required a high level of skill that they began to systematically take over the field. Following that realization, campaigns were launched to deter women from entering the field and aptitude tests were created in favor of men, effectively “disqualifying” women from joining the profession. These tests included the type of math questions which were more likely to have been taught strictly to men in school and relied heavily on personality tests aimed to exclude the more compassionate nature of women.

That brings us to today’s society where the field of computer science and engineering seems to be dominated by men. However, historically speaking, that has not always been the case. It turns out, some of the first and most important computer science discoveries were made by women. Here are some of the most important women in the history of computer science.

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace also known as Ada Lovelace is essentially responsible for the computer programming field as we know it. She was an English mathematician who in her 1843 Notes on Charles Babbage’s proposed Analytical Engine, created the first computer program. Lovelace designed the first official computer algorithm and explained just how it would work on Babbage’s imagined computer.

Grace Brewster Murray Hopper, a computer scientist and US Navy rear admiral, was responsible for the first compiler related tools – a software that works between programming languages in order to create an executable program on a device. Hopper was able to spread the idea of programming languages as a communicable thing. She eventually developed COBOL, one of the earliest programming languages that is still in use today.

Jean Jennings Bartik was a member of the team which created ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), the first ever general operations computer and was responsible for codifying many of the fundamentals of programming. When it came time to celebrate the development however, the credit was given to the male engineers on the team.

Hedy Lamarr, born Hedwig Eva Maria Kesler was an Austrian actress. However, aside from her life onscreen, she was also an incredibly successful inventor who invented a signal technology that we still use every single day. She discovered that by transmitting radio signals along “hopping” or changing frequencies, radio guided weapons can actually be detected by specific transmitters and receivers. This has been developed into the technologies we use for WiFi connections today.

Contrary to modern stereotypes, work attributed to these impactful women has shaped computer science as we know it today.

Amanda Peterson is a Contributing Author at Enlightened Digital, an online magazine dedicated to the top tech and business news, updates and analyses from around the web. Our aim is also to explore how these changes affect business growth and professional development for women. We will go beyond typical news reporting to analyze the impact of emerging technologies. We believe that delivering objective facts and figures on the newest releases and events in the tech world no longer suffices to keep consumers informed. As new technology and updates hurl businesses faster and faster into a future that seems less predictable, we will try to make sense of not only what is happening, but why, and how it impacts our lives.

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