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Blog, Tech History
A graduate of MIT, Radia Perlman’s first major contribution to tech was to create a toddler-oriented version of the LOGO programming language, which she called TORTIS. After graduating with a Ph.D in Computer Science in 1988, she moved on to work for Digital Equipment Corporation, then one of the world’s largest computer hardware vendors. It was during her time there that she would write an algorithm that modern networks still lean on: Spanning Tree Protocol (STP). STP is one of the cornerstones of Ethernet networks and is critical in bridging operations.

While it’s stretching a bit far to say that she invented the Internet, it’s also true that the modern Internet (not to mention local area networks) would not exist as we know it without her work. STP prevents networks from creating bridging loops, which can eventually create a “broadcast storm” that can bring the entire network to a halt in seconds. While Radia will likely never be a household name with the general public, the legacy of her work is found in every device that uses the Ethernet protocol.

Members of the tech community who know their history recognize her contributions, however, with a number of them dubbing her “The Mother of the Internet.” She humbly rejects that title, telling The Atlantic in a 2014 interview that no one person should lay claim to having invented the Internet. Radia continues to work in the field, most recently as a fellow for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

She also continues to speak out about the need for greater diversity in the tech industry, and the stereotypes that women are still struggling to overcome to consistently gain stature and recognition equal to that of their male peers.

Is there a female tech pioneer or prominent woman in the modern industry you’d like to see featured?Save

Blog, Tech History
Grace Hopper is the most badass woman in tech that you haven’t heard of. She was one of the world’s first computer scientists, helped the U.S. win World War II, revolutionized programming languages, and is rumored to have coined a term that everyone still uses today — computer bug.

Grace earned her PhD in Math from Yale University in 1934. When WWII started, she joined the U.S. Navy and was assigned to the programming team for the Mark I, one of the world’s earliest computers. This computer was used for many military calculations, most notably The Manhattan Project.

After the war Grace continued her work in computing. She invented the first compiler in 1952, but it took two years for people to actually believe that it worked. It’s hard to imagine computers today without compilers, and the structure of programming languages today is largely due to her efforts in this area.

Grace Hopper is also often credited with finding the first “computer bug,” an actual moth that got into the Mark II computer and caused an error. It’s not clear whether she coined the term or just found an actual bug that was causing a “bug,” but it’s an amusing anecdote to remember the leading lady of computers.

Today, she is memorialized in the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, a series of conferences where women from all over the world come to share ideas and learn from each other. Sponsored by Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology and the Association for Computing Machinery, it’s the largest gathering of women in technology, attracting over 12,000 attendees in 2015.Save

Five Women Who Influenced Computer History - HackThePatriarchy.comWomen have played an important role in the world of computers from the beginning.

Many people call Ada Lovelace “the first programmer,” but “the first computer scientist” would be more accurate. Charles Babbage never completed his Analytical Engine, and it wasn’t possible to write actual code for it, but Lovelace demonstrated in detail how to turn an algorithm into a computer program. Even more important, she saw broad possibilities in “the science of operations,” recognizing it could be applied to any subject. It would be a century before technology could catch up to her ideas.

Edith Clarke also did her most important work before the computer era, but her work in electrical engineering prefigured computers. In 1919 she became the first woman to get a degree in electrical engineering from MIT. At General Electric she devised a graphical calculator that solved problems of current, voltage, and impedance in power lines. Before the electronic devices, “computers” meant people (usually women) whose work consisted of calculations, and she trained and directed a team at AT&T.

Frances “Betty” Holberton worked as a “computer” during World War II, performing ballistics calculations, and then became a member of the ENIAC programming team, the first people to program an electronic computer. Programming the ENIAC wasn’t a matter of writing code in a language, but more one of reverse-engineering the machine. She later participated in the development of the UNIVAC computer and the creation of the COBOL programming language.

When we talk about COBOL, we immediately think of Admiral Grace Hopper, whose great achievement might be summarized as relating computers to common sense. She headed the team that devised FLOW-MATIC, the first business-oriented programming language, at Remington Rand. She followed this up with COBOL, which for many years was the dominant computer language for business applications. Her work on these languages demonstrated that non-mathematicians could write computer code.

Susan Kare was an artist who joined the team developing the original Macintosh computer. Her contributions to its graphic user interface included proportional screen typefaces, as well as icons for operations like “cut,” “paste,” and “trash,” which GUIs have imitated ever since. Satisfying Steve Jobs was never easy, and the images that reached the Mac were just the top selections from many proposals that she created. Without the contributions of these women, computing wouldn’t be what it is today.Save