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  • Von: DOAG Online
  • 10/09/2018

4 Female Pioneers in Tech

In honor of “Ada Lovelace Day” on October 9, let’s take a look at some of the pioneering women that helped to create and shape the programming and technology that we know today. Although women have been quite underrepresented in IT jobs for the last decades, they had a great impact in the beginnings of computer science since the very first computers were not machines but most often female mathematicians. 

This article first appeared in the bimonthly ORAWORLD e-magazine, an EOUC publication with exciting stories from the Oracle world, technological background articles and insights into other user groups worldwide.


Ada Lovelace (1815 - 1852)

She is one of the most famous female pioneers and widely regarded as being the world’s first computer programmer. As the only child of the poet Lord Byron, she was raised solely by her mother Annabella who encouraged Ada’s strong mathematical interest and talent. One day, she came across Charles Babbage, who had the idea of developing a new “analytical engine”, and she was completely hooked. Both of them began working on Babbage’s machine, and Ada started developing an algorithm with which the engine could have calculated the Bernoulli numbers. Although the machine itself was not completed until the 21st century, Ada Lovelace’s algorithm became known as the world’s first computer program. In her honor, a software language developed by the U.S. Department of Defense was named “Ada” in 1979.


Grace Hopper (1906 - 1992)

Time for fun facts: Do you know the origin of the terms bug and debug? Rumor has it that it all goes back to a moth which was found at a relay calculator while it was being tested at Harvard university in 1947. It was Grace Hopper who literally “debugged” the relay calculator by removing the little bug and taping it into the log book. Although it is still a source of some controversy whether or not Grace has actually coined the term “computer bug”, she still remains one of the most influential female pioneers in computing. Not only did she develop the very first compiler in 1952, but also a program named FLOW-MATIC, which later became a model for a new program named COBOL.


Joan Clarke (1917 - 1996)

100 years after Ada developed the first computer program, the computer scientist Alan Turing was very much inspired by her work. One woman working with him was Joan Clarke, a cryptoanalyst, who had an important role in the decryption of the German Enigma messages during World War 2. As the only woman among her male co-workers, her job was to break the ciphers from U-boats in real time, which then resulted in immediate military action – presumably one of the most responsible and stressful jobs at Bletchley Park, where the cryptanalysis took place, at a time when women’s intelligence wasn’t really appreciated. In 2014, her story has even been put into a movie with Keira Knightley as the main actress in The Imitation Game.


Jean Bartik (1924 - 2011)

A group of six women were responsible for programming the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), the earliest electronic general-purpose computer. Jean Bartik was one of these women. Their job was computing ballistics tables using mechanical calculators. Since the ENIAC was the first computer of its kind, the team developed many of the fundamentals of programming, thus paving the path to modern computer science. For a long time, the women’s work on the ENIAC was completely unknown, however, their story was finally uncovered and turned into the movie Top Secret Rosies: The Female "Computers" of WWII.


Time to celebrate – October 9!

Every year, on the second Tuesday of October, “Ada Lovelace Day” celebrates the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering, and maths. All around the world, dozens of events are held to encourage a new generation to follow in the pioneers’ footsteps – there will certainly be an event near you as well!


Betty Snyder (foreground) programming the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer), © United States Army/Wikipedia