IWD: Where would we be without these women in technology?

By Victoria Fellows


According to this recent research by PWC, 78 per cent of students say they can’t name a single woman in the tech industry. So, we're taking advantage of International Women’s Day 2023 to highlight the contributions to industry made by the pioneering women below.

Working from home - Mary Allen Wilkes

We probably wouldn’t be working from home without Mary Allen Wilkes – she is known to have been an early adopter of completing work tasks away from the office.

During the 1960s, the computer programmer laid the foundations for the world’s first mini-computer and forerunner to the personal computer. We wonder what Ms Wilkes would have made of so many people working from their kitchen tables during the pandemic.

Wi-Fi - Hedy Lamarr

Speaking of working from home, such widespread adoption of the practice wouldn’t be possible without Wi-Fi. In fact, without Wi-Fi, most of the world’s population would be tethered to desks to complete their jobs and not sending emails on the train, completing projects from a live-in vehicle parked up somewhere picturesque or deciding their local coffee shop will give them a new boost of inspiration.

We can thank Hollywood siren Hedy Lamarr for Wi-Fi, as she helped develop spread-spectrum radio to guide torpedoes in the Second World War. This technology went on to form the basis of Wi-Fi and therefore our ability to dial into a conference call from just about anywhere.

Computer coding - Rear Admiral Dr Grace Hopper

Of course, without computers as we know them today, work would look very different. It was Rear Admiral Dr Grace Hopper of the US Navy who pioneered the concept of automatic programming and developed new ways to use the computer to code.

In 1952, she created the first compiler called A-0, which translated mathematical code into machine-readable code, which put us on the path towards creating modern programming languages. Dr Hopper went on to contribute to the common business-oriented language, otherwise known as COBOL, one of the first standardised computer languages.

Computer programming - Ada Lovelace

So, we’ve got computers with modern functionality, Wi-Fi and even working from home, but what about the websites and apps we all use on a day-to-day basis? Well, without the ground-breaking work of Ada Lovelace, the analytical engine would not have been decoded using algorithms to generate Bernoulli numbers.

These Bernoulli numbers are often considered to be the first ever computer program. Ms Lovelace was pretty forward-thinking, considering she was working on the mechanical general-purpose computer in the mid-19th century.

Computer aesthetics - Susan Kare

If you think about Apple, Steve Jobs is probably the first name that comes to mind. Then, Steve Wozniak and maybe even Ronald Wayne if you’re really clued up on your computing history. But one of the things that sets the tech giant apart from its competitors is a certain aesthetic. You might be surprised to know there’s one woman behind the way that Apple products look - Susan Kare.

After designing the home screen that meets Apple users’ day-in-day-out, she has gone on to design icons for other tech heavyweights, including Microsoft, Facebook and Pinterest. How we interact with tech is an important part of its functionality and there’s something quite fitting about remembering Ms Kare originally laid icons out in pink marker pen in a grid notebook this International Women’s Day.

Encouraging the next Ada Lovelace or Hedy Lamarr

The PWC research we referenced earlier also noted:

  • That shockingly only 16 per cent of females have had technology suggested to them as a career option.
  • That females aren’t considering technology careers as they aren’t given enough information on what working in the sector involves.
  • A lack of female role models is also reinforcing the perception that a technology career isn’t for them. Only 22% of students can name a famous female working in technology. Whereas two thirds can name a famous man working in technology.

So, on this International Women’s Day, let’s encourage women and girls to be the next big thing in tech and hopefully become the next Susan Kare or Rear Admiral Dr Grace Hopper.

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