The 8th March is International Women’s Day and the theme for 2015 is ‘Make It Happen’, calling for further action for the advancement and recognition of women professionally around the world.
When looking at the historical characters responsible for landmark innovations in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) the first names that spring to mind are predominantly male – Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, Thomas Edison etc. Consider next the modern-day heroes of tech – Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs etc. and you could be forgiven for thinking that STEM is an exclusive club just for the boys. The technology industry remains controversial for the small number of prominent women, even today with forward-thinking organisations such as Google struggling to attract and retain female staff.
Yet the history of technology is not quite as male-dominated as you might think. We decided to showcase an inspiring selection of the unsung heroines of technology who already ‘made it happen’ and made their impact on the world.
Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace (UK, 1815-1852)
Despite her short life during a particularly repressive period in British history, she was technically the world’s first computer programmer. Her notes on Charles Babbage’s early mechanical general-purpose computer include the first ever recorded algorithm. She was the daughter of Lord Byron and her poetic approach to science has made her legendary.
Grace Hopper (USA, 1906 – 1992)
“Amazing Grace” – as she became known – invented one of the first high-level programming languages, and the first compiler to go with them. In her later life, she became recognised for her interactive lectures, including one where she demonstrated a nanosecond using a telephone cable which she cut up into 11.8 inch (30 cm) lengths, the distance that light travels in one nanosecond. She also coined the word “debugging” after a moth crawled into her relay system.
The Ladies of ENIAC (USA)
Not one, but six women working together were the first ‘computers’. Kathleen McNulty, Mauchly Antonelli, Jean Jennings Bartik, Frances Synder Holber, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, Frances Bilas Spence and Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum were the original programmers of the world’s first ever electronic general-purpose computer. They had to physically program ballistics during WWII by using the 3000 switches and dozens of cables and digit trays to physically route the data and program pulses through the machine. They went on to develop innovative tools for future software engineers and to teach others early programming techniques.
Erna Scheider Hoover (USA, 1926)
A talented mathematician, Erna Schneider Hoover invented a computerised telephone switching system which revolutionised communication all over the world. Legend has it that she came up with the idea while in hospital after giving birth to her second daughter. The principles of her invention are still used today.
Today, high-fliers such as Marissa Mayer (CEO of Yahoo!), Sheryl Samberg (COO of Facebook) and Susan Wojcicki (CEO of YouTube) can offer contemporary inspiration for women looking to make it in the world of tec