Throughout history, women in technology have made significant contributions to the field of information technology (IT) and technology development. Despite facing discrimination and biases, these women have broken barriers, challenged norms, and paved the way for future generations of women in tech. From developing the first computer algorithms to leading the teams that sent humans to the moon, women have played a crucial role in shaping the technology we use today.
In this special edition article dedicated to International Women’s Day, we celebrate the achievements of some of the most inspiring women in IT and technology development, whose work has transformed the industry and inspired generations of women to pursue careers in tech.
Ada Lovelace – Pioneering Computer Programmer
Ada Lovelace is often considered to be the first computer programmer. She was born in 1815, and her father was the famous poet Lord Byron. Ada showed an early interest in mathematics and science, and William Frend, her tutor, encouraged her to evolve her talents.
In 1833, Ada met Charles Babbage, a mathematician and inventor who was working on a machine that could perform calculations automatically. Ada was intrigued by the machine, and she began to work with Babbage on its development. Ada published the first description of how the machine could be used to perform calculations in 1843. She also created a program for the machine that would calculate Bernoulli numbers, which are a sequence of numbers that appear in mathematical equations.
Although Babbage’s machine was never completed, Ada’s work demonstrated that it was possible to use machines for more than just simple calculations. Her work is considered to be the foundation of modern computer programming.
Grace Hopper – Achieving the Unimaginable in Programming
Born in 1906, Hopper received her Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale University in 1934 and went on to teach mathematics at Vassar College before joining the U.S. Navy during World War II. While there, she worked on the first computer programming language, which became known as COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language). She developed and implemented a compiler for this language that allowed programmers to write code more rapidly and efficiently than ever before.
In 1959, Hopper was appointed director of the Navy Programming Languages group, where she continued her work on compilers and advanced data processing techniques. In 1961, she developed FORTRAN (FORmula TRANslation), another popular programming language that is still used today by many scientific and engineering applications.
Hopper’s influence extended beyond her development of programming languages; she also helped standardize how computers communicate with each other, which has been essential for the internet as we know it today. She was also one of the earliest advocates of artificial intelligence research, believing that machines could be taught to learn just like humans do. In addition to her technical accomplishments, Hopper was a tireless advocate for women in computing fields and encouraged young women to pursue careers in technology-related fields.
Grace Hopper’s legacy inspires all, male and female, who want to pursue a career in computing. Her work has changed the way computers communicate with each other and how we interact with them today. She achieved the unimaginable in programming and opened the door for many others to follow in her footsteps.
Radia Perlman – Networking and Security Expert
Radia Perlman is a networking and security expert who has been working in the IT industry for over three decades. She is best known for her work on the Spanning Tree Protocol, which is used to prevent loops in computer networks, and she has also published several books on networking and security. In addition to her work in the IT industry, Radia Perlman is also an accomplished artist, and she has exhibited her work in galleries across the United States.
Radia Perlman is a Fellow of both the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). She has received multiple awards and honors, including the 2000 IEEE Internet Award, the 2006 ACM SIGCOMM Award, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from IEEE in 2017. She has also been inducted into both the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame and the US National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Margaret Hamilton – Computing Software Innovator
Margaret Hamilton is one of the most influential figures in the history of computing. As a software engineer at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, she played a key role in developing the Apollo Guidance Computer, which was essential to the success of the Apollo moon landing missions. Her work also laid the foundation for modern software engineering practices.
She began her career as a programmer at MIT, where she worked on some of the earliest computers. Hamilton made many important contributions to software engineering during her time at Lincoln Laboratory. She developed new methods for designing and testing software, which became known as “the Hamilton approach.” This approach is still used today by many software developers.
In 1969, Hamilton moved to NASA’s Ames Research Center to work on the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) project that became an essential component of the Apollo missions.
Lynn Conway – Transforming VLSI Design
Lynn Conway is one of the most influential women in IT and technology. She is best known for her work in the area of Very-Large-Scale Integration (VLSI) design. Conway has been credited with transforming the field of VLSI design. Her work has led to development of new and more efficient ways to design integrated circuits. As a result, she is considered one of the pioneers in the field of modern electronic design automation (EDA).
Conway’s work has also had a major impact on the semiconductor industry. She is responsible for developing many of the industry’s standard cell libraries. These libraries are used by chip designers to create complex integrated circuits. In addition to her work in VLSI design, Conway has also made significant contributions to computer science and engineering education. She is a co-founder of the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE). She also served as the first chair of SIGCSE’s steering committee.
Joy Buolamwini – AI and Facial Recognition Activist
Joy Buolamwini is an AI and facial recognition activist who has been working to improve the accuracy of these technologies for people of color. She is the founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, a nonprofit that works to raise awareness about the potential biases in algorithms and artificial intelligence.
Joy’s work has been instrumental in bringing attention to the issue of biased facial recognition technology. In 2018, she testified before the US Congress on the need for regulation of these technologies. Her work has also been featured in major news outlets, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and NPR.
Katherine Johnson – Mathematician and NASA
Katherine Johnson was one of the first African American women to work as a mathematician at NASA. She is best known for her work on the Apollo Moon landing, where she calculated the trajectory of the spacecraft. She also worked on the Space Shuttle program and the Earth Resources Satellite program. Johnson’s work was essential for the success of the Apollo 11 mission, as she calculated the trajectories required to make a safe landing.
In addition to her work at NASA, Johnson has written several books on mathematics and science and is an advocate for STEM education. Her contributions to the field of astrophysics have been widely recognized, and she continues to inspire young women in science today.
In 2015, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
Hedy Lamarr – Talented inventor and actress
Hedy Lamarr was an Austrian-American actress and inventor during World War II. She is credited with helping to develop a spread-spectrum technology that is the basis for modern wireless communications, such as WiFi and Bluetooth.
During World War II, Lamarr became interested in helping the war effort. She met with composer George Antheil to develop a frequency-hopping signal that could be used to guide torpedoes without being detected by enemy radar. The system they developed used a player piano to change the frequency of the signal, making it impossible for the enemy to track or jam the signal.
Sophie Wilson – Computer scientist who co-designed the first ARM microprocessor
Sophie Wilson is a British computer scientist who designed the Acorn Micro-Computer, better known as the BBC Micro. She also created the first ARM microprocessor. Wilson’s work on the BBC Micro helped to launch the home computer revolution in the UK in the 1980s. The machine was designed to be affordable and easy to use, and it quickly became one of the bestselling computers of its time.
The BBC Micro was used in schools across Britain, and it was instrumental in introducing a generation of children to computing. Wilson’s work on the machine earned her a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “youngest person ever to design a commercially successful microcomputer.”
In 1985, Wilson left Acorn to join VLSI Technology, where she worked on developing processors for mobile phones and other handheld devices. In 1991, she joined Sun Microsystems, where she worked on Java virtual machine technology. In recent years, Wilson has been working on open-source software projects, including the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s educational programming language, Scratch.
And more-more-more names
We want to put even more women to this hall of fame:
- Sheryl Sandberg – The Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Facebook and author of the best-selling book “Lean In”.
- Susan Wojcicki – The CEO of YouTube and one of the earliest employees of Google, where she played a key role in developing Google’s advertising business.
- Ginni Rometty – The former CEO of IBM, who led the company through a period of transformation to focus on cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and other emerging technologies.
- Reshma Saujani – The founder of Girls Who Code, an organization dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology by teaching girls to code.
- Emily Chang – A journalist and author of the book “Brotopia”, which examines the culture of sexism in Silicon Valley and its impact on women in tech.
- Kimberly Bryant – The founder of Black Girls Code, an organization that aims to increase the representation of black girls and women in technology.
- Megan Smith – A former Vice President at Google and the former Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of the United States under the Obama administration.
- Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley – A British entrepreneur who founded a software company that employed women from home at a time when women were not widely represented in the tech industry.
- Martha Lane Fox – A British entrepreneur and co-founder of lastminute.com, as well as a government adviser on digital technology and inclusion.
- Anne-Marie Imafidon – A British computer scientist and founder of Stemettes, an organization that encourages girls to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.
- Linda Liukas – A Finnish computer programmer and author of the children’s book “Hello Ruby”, which teaches programming concepts to young children.
- Isabelle Kocher – A French businesswoman and former CEO of Engie, a French multinational electric utility company, who has been recognized for her leadership in driving digital transformation.
- Kristina Tsvetanova – A Bulgarian computer scientist and founder of BlindID, an organization that uses artificial intelligence to help blind people identify objects and navigate their surroundings.
- Anna Felländer – A Swedish economist and technology expert who has been named one of the world’s top 100 young economic leaders.
- Tove Skutnabb-Kangas – A Finnish linguist and educational scholar who has contributed to developing computer-assisted language learning and multilingual computing.
- Kristina Lagerstedt – A Swedish computer scientist who co-founded the company Tobii, which develops eye-tracking technology for use in research and assistive technology.
- Marianne Olsson – A Swedish software developer and expert in software architecture who has been recognized for her contributions to open-source software development.
- Malin Håkansson – A Swedish computer scientist who is a leading expert in digital forensics and has developed tools and techniques for investigating cybercrime.
- Anne-Marie Eklund Löwinder – A Swedish security expert who is the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) of the Swedish Internet Foundation, where she is responsible for the security of the .se top-level domain.
- Maria Ågren – A computer scientist who is the CEO of the Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development.
- Sara Mazur – A computer scientist and former head of Research and Development at Ericsson, one of the world’s leading telecommunications companies.
… to be continued
Today’s women working in technology and IT are breaking down barriers and paving the way for future generations of women in the field. They are empowering and inspiring thousands of other women to pursue careers in tech by sharing their experiences, advocating for diversity and inclusion, and creating opportunities for women to learn and grow in the industry.
Through their leadership, innovation, and determination, these women are challenging stereotypes and changing the face of tech. They are showing that anyone, regardless of gender, can make a significant impact in the field of technology and IT. As more and more women enter the industry and take on leadership roles, they create a more diverse and inclusive workplace that benefits everyone. Their contributions are essential to driving innovation and ensuring that the tech industry continues to evolve and grow.