By Sarah Littlejohn
For International Women’s Day this year, I wanted to help improve the visibility of Women in technology. It can be tough to get into a field where you don’t feel represented. To show there is space for everyone in tech, here are three examples of incredible Women who laid the foundations for their sectors:
“A ship in a port is safe, but that is not what a ship is meant for” is a favourite quote of mine. This quote is attributed to Naval Rear admiral and Software Developer, Grace Hopper. After achieving a PhD in Maths, Grace joined the US Naval Reserve during WWII. Due to her science background Grace was assigned to a computer project, programming the Mark I computer. This was a huge, five tonne, electromotive calculator. The Mark I was used in the war to perform maths equations for things such as aiming shells and bombs. After the war Grace continued working with computers, eventually working on the Mark II machine. One day, an error in this machine was traced to a dead moth trapped in a relay, and so the term “computer bug” was coined! Grace is also accredited to inventing the first compiler and the language FLOW-MATIC, the language that COBOL was based on.
Chieko Asakawa had an accident at 11 years old that lead to her becoming fully blind at 14. Years later, after obtaining a degree in English Literature, Chieko took a programming course for blind people. This course was taught using an Optacon, a device that translates printed text to vibrations that the user can feel. Chieko then joined IBM Research in 1984 and her projects have been key to improving accessibility in technology ever since. Chieko’s research involved developing both a word processor and a digital library for Braille documents. Chieko also created a browser plugin that converts text to speech which became an IBM product in 1997. Chieko is now working on an artificial intelligence suitcase that helps blind users navigate environments that are always changing and difficult to interpret.
Annie Easley started her career in 1955 as a human computer for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), analysing problems and solving complex and rigorous calculations by hand. NACA eventually became part of NASA, and her job evolved into working as a mathematician and computer engineer. Whilst working for NASA, Annie continued her studies and obtained a BSc in maths. Her work involved developing and implementing code that analysed alternative power technologies. Annie also played a key part in supporting the development of the upper rocket stage of the Centaur rocket, work which lay important foundations for future launches of both space shuttles and satellites.
The contributions these Women made were so much more than just these short paragraphs. There’s an abundance of information out there about these Women, and others who’ve made significant contributions to the technology sector.
If you want to read more about Women at Nasa, check out this page: www.nasa.gov/stem/womenstem.html
Another great website to look at is: www.womeninstem.co.uk
Happy International Women’s Day!