Who runs the world? Girls. Though computer programming, software engineering and web development are often stereotyped as men’s jobs, women are, and always have been, vital to the success and innovation of digital technology. These are just five of the many incredible women who were instrumental to the rise of computers and the digital age.
Women of ENIAC
Seven women were behind the success of the world’s first general-purpose computer, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC). Computing and software programming were seen as “women’s work” while engineering the hardware was viewed as “men’s work”, so it was up to Betty Jean Jennings Bartik, Kathleen McNulty, Mauchly Antonelli, Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum, Frances Bilas Spence, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer and Frances Snyder Holberton. At the time, their work was viewed as “soft”, but these incredible women understood the ENIAC better than anyone – they were responsible for the initial programming as well as any repairs the machine may have needed.
Grace Hopper, often referred to as “Amazing Grace” and “Queen of Software”, was a Yale Ph.D and United States Navy Rear Admiral who pioneered computer programming. She was one of the first programmers on the Harvard I computer and created the FLOW-MATIC, MATH-MATIC and COBOL programming languages as well as the first complier. Hopper worked with several former ENIAC women on the Universal Automatic Computer (UNIVAC) and UNIVCAC I computers, using her programming languages. Following her retirement from the Navy with the rank of Rear Admiral in 1986, Hopper served as a senior consultant to Digital Equipment Corporation until her death in 1992.
Katherine G. Johnson
During her 35-year career with NASA, Johnson calculated trajectories, launch windows and emergency return paths for Project Mercury which put the first American in space and the first American in Orbit. Johnson also worked on the rendezvous paths for the Apollo Lunar Module and command module on flights to the moon. When NASA began using electronic computers for calculations, Johnson helped pioneer their use; her reputation for accuracy bolstered confidence in the new technology. While at NASA Johnson also worked on the Space Shuttle program, the Earth Resources Satellite and plans for a Mars mission.
Susan Kare worked with Steve Jobs to design the original icons for the Macintosh computer released in 1984. While at Apple, Kare developed several fonts including Chicago, Monaco and Geneva. She famously designed the icons for the lasso, grabber and paint bucket, as well as the Apple command symbol and the iconic Happy Mac, which is now used as the Finder icon. Descendants of her work can be found in many computer operating systems today.
Known as the “Mother of the Internet”, Radia Perlman invented the spanning-tree protocol, which is fundamental to the operation of network bridges. Most recently, she has invented the TRILL protocol, which corrects some of the shortcomings of spanning-trees. Perlman holds over 100 patents and has taught courses at Harvard, the University of Washington and MIT. She was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame in 2014.