What do you do when the power goes out? You can’t use the Internet, watch TV, or charge your phone. Without the convenience of modern technology, many of us are simply lost. While we all know names like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, what about the women who helped build the foundation of the modern world?
With Hidden Figures becoming a recent box office and critical success, and March boasting International Women’s Day, it’s time to take a moment to talk about and honor those women.
While women hold 57% of jobs in the workforce generally, that number drops to a paltry 25% when you’re talking about jobs in technology. There has always been a significant cultural barrier for women interested in the field, and even today, women employed with engineering degrees earn less money than their male counterparts. Despite the bias that has always existed in the industry, our world would be a very different place today without the important discoveries of generations of women in technology.
Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer
Ada Lovelace, born in 1815, was renowned for her work on the “mechanical general purpose computer.” This visionary was the first to recognize that such a machine could do more than calculations, and she developed the first algorithm intended to be used by a computer. As such, in the eyes of many she is the world’s first computer programmer.
Carol Shaw, the First Female Video Game Developer
Carol Shaw is often called the first female video game developer. She designed many video games in the early years of the field, including Atari’s Polo, 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe, and River Raid. Without these fundamental building blocks, who knows what the industry would look like today?
The Women Behind Hidden Figures
The astronauts of the 1960s received lifelong accolades for their part in the Space Race. However, until the release of the recent film Hidden Figures, very few people knew the names and stories of some of the women behind the technology that made spaceflight possible.
Mary Jackson, a gifted mathematician, worked for NASA for 30 years as a computer. One of her jobs was to “extract relevant data from flight tests and experiments.” Because she was an African-American woman, she spent the beginning of her career in the segregated West Area Computing Section.
Working alongside Mary Jackson were Grace Hopper, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan. Hopper was a computer scientist and trail blazed the transition to the sophisticated computer programming languages that we still use today. Johnson’s calculations were used to plan the trajectories of several space missions, and thanks to her contributions, she was eventually awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Dorothy Vaughan was an expert computer programmer, and as a NACA’s supervisor, she worked hard to guarantee promotions and pay raises for her employees.
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