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Influential Women of Technology


In honour of March being Women's History Month, we thought we would bring to your attention some of the key women from the history of technology.


Upon deciding what to discuss for my contribution to the Moore-Wilson blog I researched what events were taking place this week: Tolkien reading day – no relevance there, quirky country music song titles day – could be interesting but unfortunately doesn’t relate to anything we do at Moore-Wilson... After being distracted for a short while (a long while) by the various days of the year, I discovered March is Women’s History Month. At last, I can link a worldwide event to the work we do here.


With that in mind, I thought I’d take the opportunity to highlight a selection of women who played an integral role in the development of the technology that we know and rely on today.


Ada Lovelace


Where better to start than way back when before computers had even been invented. Augusta Ada King, the Countess of Lovelace and daughter of Lord Byron, is widely credited as being the world’s first computer programmer. In 1843 Ada translated Luigi Menabrea’s memoir on Charles Babbage’s analytical engine, adding extensive notes on it, including an algorithm for the ‘steampunk’ machine. Unfortunately, the engine itself was never fully built. Had it been, it would have run correctly. The 15th October celebrates Ada Lovelace Day, a day aimed to raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering and maths - firmly placing Ada Lovelace as a crucial figure in the history of technology.


Grace Hopper


From the first computer programmer to the “mother” of COBOL (Common Business-Orientated Language), Grace Hopper. Admiral Hopper was not only one of the first female programmers, but also the first woman to graduate from Yale with a PhD in mathematics AND the first woman to reach the rank of Admiral in the U.S. Navy. Though perhaps most interestingly for all you developers out there, Grace is also responsible for the term “debugging”.


While she was working on a Mark II computer at Harvard University, her associates discovered a moth stuck in a relay, thereby impeding its operation, whereupon it is said she remarked that they were “debugging the system”. An entire post, and more could be dedicated to Admiral Grace Hopper’s achievements and her contributions to technology as we know it today. What sums up Grace’s accolades best is the fact she received honorary degrees from thirty universities. A truly remarkable woman.


Carla Meninsky & Carol Shaw


Carla Meninsky and Carol Shaw - the only female engineers working at Atari in the early 1980s. Meninsky was hired as a game designer for the Atari 2600 console and, while working at Atari, was behind the development of many, now classic, games including Indy 500 (1977), Star Raiders (1979), and Dodge ‘Em, an award-winning racing game released in 1980. Shaw, originally employed by Atari, went on to join Activision where she programmed, River Raid – a scrolling shooter, widely regarded as a “classic”. Shaw is also accountable for 3-D Tic Tac Toe, Super Breakout and Happy Trails. Unfortunately, I am too young (I wasn’t born) to have enjoyed these games, but hopefully, they reign familiar with some of you. There is no doubt these two played an important role in the evolution of the life-like games we play today. Cheers girls.


Radia Perlman


Who is the ‘mother of the internet’? Many different people have been called the ‘father of the internet’ including Vint Cerf, Bob Kahn and Tim Berners-Lee. But, who is the ‘mother of the internet’ I hear you ask… Well, Radia Perlman has been dubbed with the title. Perlman, a network engineer and software designer with a Ph.D in computer science from MIT. Of course, she didn’t invent the internet; instead, she’s best known for writing the algorithm behind spanning-tree, a network protocol that ensures a loop-free topology for any bridge Ethernet local area network – simply, she revolutionised the way data is transferred across networks ensuring greater reliability across wider network spans. Had it not been for Perlman’s advances, the internet may not perform as consistently and efficiently as we know it to today. 


The Ladies of ENIAC


The names Kay McNulty, Marlyn Wescoff, Fran Bilas, Ruth Lichterman, Adele Goldstine and Betty Snyder may not sound too familiar to you but the collective name: The Ladies of ENIAC should. These six ladies each bore the job title of “Computor”, responsible for making calculations for tables of firing and bombing trajectories, for determining the correct sequences of steps to complete these calculations and for setting up the ENIAC accordingly - the world’s first computer, no less! The six women toiled six-day weeks during World War II, inventing the field of programming as they worked.  At the time, others took the credit (men, no doubt), but thankfully today the ladies are granted the full credit they deserve and were inducted into the WITI (Women in Technology International) Hall of Fame in 1997.


This is just a short overview of the indispensable roles a handful of women played in the curation and development of the accessible technology we know, love and take for granted today. So, from everyone here at Moore-Wilson, thank you, ladies.


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