Charles Babbage and his early mechanical computers, the Difference Engine and the Analytical Engine. What is rarely touched upon, however, are the contributions made by Ada Lovelace, whom Babbage fondly referred to as his ‘Enchantress of Numbers’. While Babbage’s conceptualized — but never successful built — mechanical computing devices laid the groundwork for modern computers, Lovelace was the first to propose what we now call computer programming. While Babbage is generally credited with giving birth to computer science, it is Lovelace who created the soul of the machine. Ada Lovelace, or to use her formal name, Augusta Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace, was as unconventional as she was brilliant. Born on December 10, 1815 to famed poet Lord George Gordon Byron and Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke Byron, Lovelace showed an early aptitude for mathematics. This was encouraged by her mother, who was determined that Ada be nothing like her famously free-spirited, philandering father, who separated from her mother when Ada was only a few weeks old. Ada never saw her father, who died in Greece when she was eight. Lovelace was given what was at the time considered a very unconventional upbringing for a lady of her social status. At a time when proper women were generally educated only in art, literature, and how to be the best dinner companion and wife, Lovelace was drilled in science and mathematics by a series of private tutors. Her mastery of mathematics opened doors in English society usually reserved for men. This led to the 17-year-old Ada winning an introduction to famed mathematician Babbage. The two quickly became inseparable, with Babbage assuming the role of mentor to his young protégé and took a role in helping him design his legendary computational machines. Lovelace earned her place in computer history when she was asked to translate an article on Babbage’s early analytical engine by Italian mathematician Luigi Federico Menabrea for a Swiss journal. Instead of simply translating Menabrea’s work, she added copious notes — more than three times as long as the original text — in which she laid the groundwork for computer programming. Lovelace described a method by which letters as well as numbers could be encoded and represented. She was the first to conceive the idea that a computer could be reprogrammed to perform an infinite number of varied tasks, limited only by the instructions it was given as well as a number of other ideas that have since become the bedrock on which computer programming is built. Sadly, Lovelace’s ground-breaking work, originally published in 1853 under the initials ‘A.L.’, received little attention when it was first published. It was largely forgotten until 1953, when author B.V. Bowden rediscovered her work and published it as Faster Than Thought: A Symposium on Digital Computing Machines. Ada Lovelace’s contributions to computer science has seen been memorialized by a number of organizations, including the U.S. Navy, who named a programming language ADA in her honor in 1980. Her contributions are also recognized each year during Ada Lovelace Day. ALD, a celebration of women in science, technology, engineering and science, was first celebrated in 2009. This year’s ALD will be celebrated on October 11. Contact us for more information on the pioneering women of technology of yesterday and today.No study of computer science is complete without a discussion of
Kare, who has been called the ‘Betsy Ross of the Personal Computer’, is the artist behind the icons included in the original Macintosh OS. Working alongside Apple founder Steve Jobs in the early 1980s, Kare designed many of the common user interface icons and typography used in the first Macintosh computers. The Happy Mac icon that users saw on system startup, the moving watch, the paintbrush, the iconic Macintosh trashcan, the dreaded bomb icon – these and many, many others are the work of Kare.
Kare’s passion was to make the computer feel more like a friend than a machine, a passion which she later continued in her work with Microsoft. After leaving Apple following Job’s brief self-imposed exile from the company in 1985, Kare went on to design many of the iconic design elements for Windows. She was also responsible for many of the graphical elements in the original Microsoft Solitaire that was bundled with Windows. At the time of her work for Apple, computer interface design was in its infancy and the tools used were still primitive. Because of this, Kare did her design work using the same method used by video-game designers of the day – basically, laying the designs out pixel-by-pixel, by hand, on special graph paper.
Her original paper designs have since acquired jointly by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art, where they played a prominent role in the MoMA exhibition This is for Everyone: Design Experiments for the Common Good. Susan Kare’s work did not end with her designs for Apple and Microsoft. Today, she continues to offer her artistic skill through her design company, Susan Kare Graphic Design.
Her recent work can be seen in many of the digital ‘gifts’ offered by Facebook, including the ‘rubber ducky’, as well as on such high-profile sites as Paypal and Wired. An impressive portfolio of her work is available on her site. Steve Jobs and Apple may have given the world the Macintosh, but Susan Kare gave the Macintosh the personality it needed to be a success. Much of the early success of Apple – and the interface designs that have followed – was made possible by her pioneering work.
DoSomething.org is a nonprofit giving kids the structure and support they need to change their world. The problem? 90% of Wikipedia editors are men. So the Girls-Only Edit-a-Thon was born, a group project to encourage girls to host edit-a-thon parties and work on female-focused wiki pages together. The DoSomething.org platform page for the campaign provides information, support, suggestions, and a blueprint for change. Girls and groups from all over the world can sign up and sign on to do some good.
Does Wikipedia have a gender gap among its editors, and if so, does that fact bias content on the site? Wikimedia, the umbrella organization that manages Wikipedia, says yes to both. It is believed that the hacker/high-conflict culture drives many women away from engaging in thoughtful discourse. Wikipedia, in their article about the wiki gender gap, describes several contributing factors. A high-tech skills gap was noted, along with the conflict culture and gender differences in language and linguistics.
Wikipedia leadership has committed to making a difference in gender disparity, in wiki-type language: “We’re going to double-down on this problem!” Several other changes are being developed, including the Wikipedia Teahouse, a friendlier user-interface with welcoming for newcomers. In addition to the Girls-Only Edit-a-Thon, which is targeted to high school aged teens, there has been an edit-a-thon yearly for the past several years called Women in Science. The goal of this yearly online activity is to increase the number of prominent women in science with Wiki pages.
One woman whose efforts to advance and develop the computer science and technology field, Annie Easley, is a story of perseverance and dynamism. Easley, a computer and rocket scientist, and mathematician who worked for NASA under extraordinary circumstances, had to push through stereotypes and misconceptions as a woman of color during the civil rights and Jim Crow era of the 1950s-1960s.
Along with 4 other African Americans, two others being women as well, she became part of a group of highly qualified NASA Scientists. Her work as part of the Centaur project included 34 years of developing computer code that analyzed alternative power and helped launched the technological foundations of the current space shuttle program. Because of her talents in exploring mathematical analytics and codes, she was described often as a “human computer” in an era when computer technology was still limited to government organizations.
There is no doubt, that the strides Annie Easley and other women of NASA have made and continue to make will definitely change the discourse concerning not only a woman’s potential but the potential of all of humanity and society. Knowing history and contemporary trends for women in the workplace can help us as society to push barriers and continue towards a better future.
Throughout her life, Shaw was often the only female perusing her chosen interest. Her parents encouraged her to excel in math and computer science. In college, at UC Berkley, Shaw studied engineering. As she finished her coursework for a Masters in Computer Science, Shaw interviewed with Atari. She was in a work-study program at the time, but Atari hired her because of her programing knowledge. Author Chris Suellentrop of the New York Times states that the first commercially released video game designed by a woman was Carol Shaw’s Tic-Tac-Toe. In the late 1970s and early ’80s, one person created the entire game. Shaw not only did the programming but also created the sound and graphics.
In 2011 Benj Edwards of Vintage Computing and Gaming conducted a very interesting interview with Shaw. She noted that since she was used to being the only woman in math and science, she was comfortable working with men only. In general, Shaw didn’t care what people thought of her interests or her career. She credits the heightened awareness of feminism in the 1970s, which helped her to understand that she could do what she wanted.
Shaw worked for Atari for two years then the industry took a dip. She was an assembly language programmer at Tandem for 16 months and then Activision recruited her. The first game she created for that company was the popular River Raid, for the Atari 2600. In the early 1980s, “shooting” games took place on one screen but Shaw developed a scrolling format. River Raid won several awards including Infoworld’s best action game and best Atari 8-bit game of the year.
In 1984 the video game industry reached another low and Shaw returned to Tandem. Because of her success in the industry and her careful investments she retired early, in 1990. Unfortunately, there are still few women in the video game industry. A 2014 International Game Developers Association (IGDA) study noted that only 22 percent of developers are women. We need more women in all fields of technology, so contact us to learn how to make that happen.
Hamilton and her team of programmers at MIT wrote one of the most important pieces of software ever written, and in doing so changed the world for all mankind, men and women alike. The Apollo 11 mission that first put man on the moon on July 10, 1969 was made possible by guidance software written by Hamilton’s team. They wrote the code that allowed the Apollo Guidance Computer units in the mission’s command module and lunar landing module to successfully navigate to the moon, land, and return to earth.
Under Hamilton’s leadership, the team not only wrote code that worked, but code that save the mission from almost certain failure. NASA was aware of problems between the Apollo Guidance Computer and the on-board radar on the lander. The radar, which was largely useless during the landing sequence, would nonetheless flood the guidance computer with an overwhelming storm of unnecessary data that could easily overwhelm and shut down guidance during the most crucial part of the landing sequence.
The coding team was aware of this, and wrote the guidance program in such a way that the guidance computer could be quickly restarted and the code reloaded mid-landing sequence. Their foresight made the Apollo 11 landing possible when, as expected, the guidance computer faulted and had to be restarted during the landing. NASA recognized Hamilton for her contributions to the Apollo program by awarding her the Exceptional Space Act Award in 2003.
Today, at 80, Margaret Hamilton is still playing an active role in technology in her role as CEO of Hamilton Technologies Inc. of Cambridge, MA. Founded in 1986, HTI has build upon lessons learned during the Apollo program to develop a revolutionary programming language known as Universal Systems Language (USL), which HTI claims has unequaled reliability for use in high-demand computing tasks.
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.
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.
Chief Technology Officer for the United States
As the CTO for the United States, Megan Smith is in charge of assisting the Obama administration with the development of policies and initiatives relating to technology. She is also the first woman to hold the position and was appointed to the role in 2014. VP for Google X In her 9 years with Google, Smith assisted in the acquisition of Picasa and the software that would become Google Earth and Google Maps. She also became the Vice-President of Google X, which is the Google sub-company responsible for Google Glass and the self-driving car. She has also been involved with projects such as Loon and Wing.
Project Loon seeks to bring WiFi connectivity to remote locations all over the world. Google plans to do this by using wind and solar-powered high-altitude balloons. These balloons will fly at twice the height of most commercial airplanes. While the beta test in 2013 didn’t go as well as they hoped, the company plans to have the technology available as early as 2020.
Project Wing is currently developing flying delivery-drones. Not only will these drones be capable of quickly delivering goods, similar to Amazon’s drones, they will also be able to deliver goods to remote locations. This project has the potential to be helpful in emergency situations, such as getting emergency supplies to a lost or injured hiker while he is waiting to be rescued.
CEO of PlanetOut
PlanetOut was an entertainment company targeting the LGBT demographic. The company worked with AOL, Yahoo!, and MSN to create an LGBT-friendly community. Smith worked as the COO before becoming the CEO in 2001. The company’s exposure increased ten-fold under her leadership.