NOTE: This post was originally published on Simple-Talk.
NASA recently named a facility in honor of Katherine Johnson, the mathematician who performed the calculations for space flights in the 50s and 60s. She was one of the “human computers” whose stories were made famous by the movie Hidden Figures just a few years ago. Until that movie was released, the contributions of these women were not well known. Imagine making those calculations by hand today!
There are many women pioneers in technology whose accomplishments outshine anything most of us could do these days. Ada Lovelace wrote the first computer program for a theoretical machine about 100 years before the first real computer existed. Admiral Grace Hopper developed one of the first compilers. The inventions of Hedy Lamarr during World War II lead to the Wi-Fi technologies we all now use.
At the dawn of the computing age, women coders were the norm. Most of the programmers on the ENIAC system were women, for example. Programming was considered low-prestige, unglamorous, and tedious work most suited for women, but even then, women didn’t get credit for their achievements.
Many things have changed over the decades, including the attitudes towards programming. It’s now a highly prized and well-paying skill. Development teams are more likely to be comprised solely of men. There are many factors that have led to this disparity, but the turning point seems to be the 1980s during the rise of home computers. Since then, the number of women in computer science university programs has decreased with a subsequent drop in women working in technology fields.
Women have always had the brain power to work in technology, but they are often discouraged from pursing tech careers by the very people who should be supporting them. Toxic “brogrammer” cultures or inflexible work environments can also contribute to making the women who work in tech drop out. It’s not easy working on a team where you don’t feel welcome, and fixing these problems is good for everyone, not just women.
When you think about how much easier coding is today with modern languages, you must realize these pioneering women had mad skills. Women have made a big difference in tech throughout history, but their stories are not always told. While the numbers are smaller, women continue to innovate and lead.
Do you enjoy your technology career? Be sure to thank the women tech pioneers whose accomplishments have made your life easier!