8 Female Pioneers in The World of Technology

8 Female Pioneers in The World of Technology

1. ADA LOVELACE (1815-1852, UK)

Ada Lovelace is widely credited as the world’s first computer programmer, even though technology took around a century to catch up with her ideas. Commenting on a theoretical invention by her mentor and ‘the father of the computer’, Charles Babbage, in the mid-1800s Ada wrote reams of notes to describe how the machine might handle complex calculations, suggesting codes could be created for it to handle letters and symbols, as well as numbers. She also came up with a method for the device to repeat a series of instructions, effectively inventing a process known as looping that almost all computer programmes use today. These, and other pioneering computer concepts she envisaged, have landed Ada Lovelace firmly in the annals of history. The US Department of Defence even named computer language ‘Ada’ after her.

2. EDITH CLARKE (1883 – 1959, USA)

Edith Clarke was what you might call a ‘human computer’, doing calculations by hand to model long-distance electrical transmission systems. When she was orphaned, aged 12, at the end of the 1800s, she was already determined and used her inheritance to study mathematics and astronomy. She later became the first woman to complete a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and famously invented the Clarke calculator – a device enabling engineers to do equations up to 10 times faster than existing methods. She also helped build the Hoover Dam with her second-to-none electrical expertise.

3. GRACE HOPPER (1906 – 1992, USA)

Before language-based computer programming, computers exclusively used binary code – a pattern of ones and zeros, which could be confusing to decipher. American computer scientist and US Navy Rear Admiral, Grace Hopper, believed if computer programmes could be programmed in English, many more people would be willing and able to give programming a shot. She helped invent some early English-language programming languages to prove her point. Dubbed the ‘queen of software’ by many in the tech sphere, Hopper developed the common business-oriented language (COBOL) that many still use to make business applications today.

4. KATHERINE JOHNSON (1918 – Current, USA)

“I counted everything. I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed…” and Katherine Johnson continued counting, all the way into NASA, to the moon and beyond. Johnson began working at NASA’s progenitor – the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics or NACA – in 1953, and was instrumental in calculating flight paths to space. She did the trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard, the first American in space, in 1961 and manually – yes, by hand – computed the trajectory equations that would see John Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission turn a corner in the space race between the USA and the Soviet Union. She also worked on the Apollo moon landing programme and the start of the Space Shuttle programme, and in 2015 was decorated with America’s highest civilian honour: the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

5. MARGARET HAMILTON (1936 – Current, USA)

And staying with the women that propelled us into the space age – and who picked up Medal of Freedom honours to prove it – Margaret Hamilton designed the on-board flight software that made it possible for Armstrong and Aldrin’s Apollo mission to land on the Moon. Hamilton is also credited with bringing the term “software engineering” into the public sphere and boosting its credibility and respect as a scientific discipline.

6. RADIA PERLMAN (1951 – Current, USA)

If anyone could lay claim to inventing the Internet – and she insists no individual can – mathematician and inventor, Radia Perlman would definitely deserve to throw her hat in the ring. Some say she’s the ‘mother of the internet’, though she’s no fan of the phrase, but her invention of the spanning-tree protocol – a sort of traffic pattern for the internet to follow – made it possible for Ethernet technology to become a household name. Perlman has made numerous contributions to the internet as we know it, and holds more than 80 related patents.

7. MEG WHITMAN (1956 – Current, USA)

Now at the helm of one of the biggest companies in computing, Hewlett Packard, Meg Whitman has been a force on the tech scene since she first started making waves at eBay in 1998. Whitman joined the online auction house when it was an infant in the digital retail space with just 30 employees, but after a decade of her leadership it had grown to around 15,000 employees and turned an annual revenue of $8 billion.

8. MITCHELL BAKER (1959 – Current, USA)

We’re big fans of open source software here at Certus, and as founding chairperson of the Mozilla Foundation – famous for its Firefox web browser – Mitchell Baker helped bring open source internet applications to the masses and legitimise their use. Nowadays, open source apps carrying the legacy of Mozilla are everywhere, in thousands of projects: from GitHub, to HTML5 apps, to Firefox itself. With such influence, it’s little wonder Mitchell Baker can lay claim to a spot in the Internet Hall of Fame.