The history of technological advancements is filled with inspirational women. Female pioneers in technology have shown us new ways to think about computers, opened doors for marginalized communities and built breakthrough technology. Female computer scientists make a difference inside and outside of the tech community.
Dating back to the earliest years of computer science, women have been making a tremendous impact. Born in 1815, Ada Lovelace’s mother insisted that she be taught mathematics, even though it was uncommon for women at the time. Her education led her to work with Charles Babbage on his computer called the Analytical Engine. The Analytical Engine is considered the first computer.
Although she died at just 36, she accomplished much in that short time. Lovelace is credited as the first person to recognize that computers could be used for something other than calculations. Because of that, she is often regarded as the first to see the full potential of computers and considered one of the first computer programmers. You can learn more about Ada Lovelace and other women in technology in our earlier piece. Lovelace may have been the first female pioneer in technology, but she’s far from the last.
Woman are still pushing boundaries and making things better. Here are a few other female computer pioneers of past and present. These women truly blazed trails in the programming world and stood out as innovators in the field.
1. Mary Allen Wilkes
If you’re accessing this article on a home computer, you can thank Mary Allen Wilkes for helping make that happen. Wilkes is best known for her work on the LINC, considered by many to be the world’s first personal computer.
Born in 1937, Wilkes didn’t study to be a computer programmer. In fact, she set out to be an attorney. Still, she was one of the first female computer scientists, working at MIT and joining the Digital Computer Group when work was just beginning on LINC.
Wilkes is credited with designing the interactive operating system LAP6 for LINC, writing the LINC programming manual and teaching participants in LINC’s first evaluation program. In 1964, she worked from her parents’ home in Baltimore using a LINC. This action probably made her the first to use a personal computer at home.
Despite her success in the computer industry, she returned to school to pursue her goal of earning a law degree. In the 1970s, Wilkes left programming to become a lawyer, fulfilling her first dream after accomplishing so much in the technology field.
2. Adele Goldberg
Born in 1945, Adele Goldberg is a computer scientist who helped develop the programming language Smalltalk and object-oriented programming concepts in the 1970s. The ideas developed by Goldberg and her team led to graphically-based interfaces instead of command line systems.
In 1977, she co-authored an article called Personal Dynamic Media, which predicted that ordinary individuals would use computers to exchange and modify personal media. The Smalltalk system influenced the Apple Macintosh desktop environment.
Today, Goldberg works at Neometron, Inc., an internet support provider she cofounded in the late ’90s. In an interview, Goldberg said, “A lot of people used to say, ‘Don’t you just hate being the only woman? You have to be so much better.’ And I said, ‘Well, it kind of makes me work a little harder and be better.’ I didn’t see it as a negative so much. Maybe it is, but I didn’t focus on that.”
3. Carol Shaw
Carol Shaw is known as the first female video game programmer. She was born in 1955 and is best known for creating River Raid, as well as many other games. While employed at Atari, she tackled some of the more complicated programming tasks for the Atari 2600, which helped cartridge games become popular. After her time at Atari, she joined Activision. She was the first female game designer at both organizations.
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Her interest in text-based computer games began in high school when she first used a computer. She earned a master’s degree in computer science, and her success as a programmer allowed her to retire early.
At the 2017 Video Game Awards, she was honored with the Industry Icon award. In an interview with Vintage Computing, Shaw looked back on her education and career and stated, “Of course, people would say, ‘Gee, you’re good at math — for a girl.’ That was kind of annoying. Why shouldn’t girls be good at math?”
4. Megan Smith
Born in 1964, Megan Smith was the third chief technology officer of the United States. She served under President Barack Obama starting in 2014. This was significant for many reasons. She was the first U.S. CTO with a technical background, having been a leader at Google, and was the first woman to hold the highest technology role in the nation. She used this unique opportunity to promote inclusion of women and LGBTQ people in technology.
Since her time working as CTO for the United States, she’s focused on getting students involved in STEM innovation and helped found the Tech Jobs Tour to promote diversity in technology. According to Forbes, “So far, more than 10,000 people have attended Tech Jobs Tour events and among them 48% have been female, 25% LGBTQ, gender non-conforming or other, and 35% people of color.”
She is a strong advocate for tech experts to join public life. She said, “I actually think that working in the federal government, or state or local, is one of the most significant things a technical person can do.”
5. Joy Buolamwini
Joy Buolamwini is a ground-breaking Ghanaian American computer scientist. Born around 1990, she taught herself to program at an early age. Buolamwini is a Rhodes Scholar and Fulbright Fellow. She’s worked all over the world, from Ethiopia and Zambia to the United States, to empower underserved communities through software development.
As a graduate researcher at MIT Media Lab, she discovered that algorithms for facial recognition had difficulty identifying dark skinned women. This inspired her to launch a project called Gender Shades, which got attention from major companies like Microsoft. She then created a program called Algorithmic Justice League to highlight and fight bias in technology.
She was awarded a grand prize in the Search for Hidden Figures contest for her work on biases in computer algorithms. The contest looks for and honors the next generation of female leaders in science, technology, engineering and math.
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You can make a difference like these female pioneers in technology with the right training. The Software Guild offers a coding bootcamps designed to help you break into software development or advance your existing career in Java and .NET/C#. Our instructors have years of industry experience and ensure the projects you work on in our program make sense to you. Don’t wait to join these female computer scientists in paving the way for future programmers.