There is a long list of women who have influenced computing throughout the years. Although it would be impossible to cover them all, we’re going to do a brief rundown on just a handful of the women who have set milestones for computing history.
1842 – Ada Lovelace
Born as Augusta Ada Byron and also known as Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace was the only legitimate child of Lord Byron and considered to be the world’s first computer programmer. During her work on Charles Babbage’s analytical machine, she developed the very first algorithm that was meant to be processed by a machine.
1942 – Hedy Lamarr
Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler was an Austrian-American actress who later changed her name to Hedy Lamarr. She was widely known for being one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood throughout her acting career. But aside from being a famous actress, Lamarr also a bona-fide nerd who co-invented an early technique for spread spectrum communications, the basis for wireless communications that we still operate by to this day.
1946 – ENIAC Programmers
ENIAC, or Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer, was the very first general-purpose Turing-complete computer. Developed during World War II and funded by the U.S. Government, the machine was programmed by six women: Kay McNulty, Betty Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Wescoff, Fran Bilas and Ruth Lichterman.
1950s – Grace Hopper
Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper of the U.S. Navy was a computer scientists credited as one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer. Furthermore, she also developed the very first computer language compiler and was the one who coined the term “debugging.” Her work gave birth to the idea of machine-independent programming languages which then led to the development of COBOL.
1961 – Dana Ulery
Next time you use Google Maps for navigation, you might want to take a brief moment to thank Dr. Dana Ulery. In 1961 she joined the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory as its first female engineer, where she developed algorithms for NASA’s Deep Space Network capabilities as well as real-time tracking systems used on the Ranger and Mariner space missions.
1962 – Jean E. Sammet
The computer language known as FORTRAN has been around forever, and still exists today, thanks to Jean E. Sammet. She didn’t develop FORTRAN, but she developed FORMAC, an extension of FORTRAN that allowed FORTRAN to computer, manipulate and use advanced math functions. She also was part of the sub-committee that created COBOL and wrote the first book on the history of computer languages.
1965 – Mary Allen Wilkes
Nowadays everyone has a personal computer in their house, but in the 60’s that wasn’t the case. Mary Allen Wilkes changed all that when she became the first person to use a computer in a private residence…a computer which she hand-built. But her contributions to computing were far more important than just building a killer home-rig. The assembler-linker model which is something no computer language can function without nowadays was developed by Wilkes. She also conceptualized and implemented LAP, the first operating system ever and created LINC, the very first minicomputer.
1972 – Karen Spärck Jones
If there’s anyone that Yahoo’s Jerry Yang and David Filo and Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin should thank it is Karen Spärck Jones. She is credited for coming up with inverse document frequency (IDF) weighting in information retrieval. I have no idea what that means, but I do know that it most of today’s search engines can’t function without it!
1979 – Carol Shaw
Do you remember playing River Raid for the Atari 2600? Remember how awesome of a game it was? That’s because the person behind it was Carol Shaw, the very first female video game designer. The first game she designed was 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe in 1979 for Atari and she later went to Activision to design River Raid as well as other popular games.
1984 – Roberta Williams
Today’s adventure games and MMOs are the descendants of King’s Quest, one of the most influential graphical adventure games ever. And King’s Quest was nothing without Roberta Williams, as she wrote, designed, and developed the original game in 1984. Williams is considered a pioneer in graphical adventure games because of her extensive work in developing and creating the King’s Quest series.
1985 – Radia Perlman
Say hello to the Mother of the Internet. That’s right, without Radia Perlman you would be snail-mailing your coveted point-and-shoot photos of cats to your friends. Perlman invented the Spanning Tree Protocol which pretty much is the reason any bridged Ethernet LAN works. I’m pretty sure that using the internet without STP is the equivalent of dividing by zero.
1993 – Shafi Goldwasser
Our private information that moves over the internet isn’t private by default. Something has to keep that stuff encrypted and make sure that the encryption is not easily breakable. Thanks to Shafi Goldwasser, our credit card info and payments to midget porn sites remain encrypted on the web. She co-invented zero-knowledge proofs which continues to be one of the building blocks of all computer cryptography protocols.
1997 – Anita Borg
When Anita Borg finished her studies at New York University in 1981, she was one of the few women to hold a computer science degree at the Ph.D level. After working in the tech sector for many years, she founded the Institute for Women and Technology (WIT) in 1997. After her death in 2003, Xerox supported and helped fund the changing of the institute’s name to the Anita Borg Institute.
2006 – Frances E. Allen
If Grace Hopper invented the programming compiler, then Frances E. Allen perfected it. Over the years she has pioneered work in optimizing compilers and also had a gig with the NSA where she did intelligence work on computer languages and security codes. But what gave Allen a permanent milestone in computing history was her winning of the Turing Award in 2006, an award that had only been won by men since its inception in 1966.
If you’re interested in a more in-depth list of important women in computing, hit up the source link below for a full rundown.