Ada Lovelace, Technology Hero

March 24, 2009

When girls are looking for heroes in technology, who are the leaders that they learn about in school? Who do they look up to? Most of the big names in technology are men, but women have played an important role in the development of technology.

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a day to recognize women in technology. Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer, serves as inspiration for generations of women in technology.  In recognition of Ada Lovelace Day, here are a few women who inspire me:

  • Hedy Lamarr, the Austrian-born actress was instrumental in developing “frequency hopped spread spectrum” technology. This made radio-guided torpedoes harder for enemies to detect or jam. It also served as the basis for Wi-Fi and wireless phone technologies that we rely on today.
  • Grace Hopper, who started her military career with World War II-era Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), developed validation software for the programming language COBOL. COBOL was a result of Hopper’s belief that programs can be written in a language that was close to English rather than in machine code or languages close to machine code. Hopper served as the director of the Navy Programming Languages Group in the Navy’s Office of Information Systems Planning. In 1994, the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology established the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference “to bring the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront.”
  • Honora Smith, Ada Lovelace’s great-great-great niece, works on practical outworking of math in decision making. She applies technology to plan sustainable community health schemes in rural areas of developing countries.
  • Barbara Liskov was the first women to earn a Ph.D. in computer science. Her Ph.D. thesis was a computer program to play chess end games. Liskov was instrumental in the development of computer languages that allowed data abstraction, which is fundamental to many programs that we all use today.
  • Galyn Susman, the visual arts director at Pixar, got her start at Apple Computer, where she showed the power of computer-based animation with the animated short “Pencil Test” which was created on the Macintosh II. More recently, she worked on the Pixar films Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Ratatouille.

Only about 22 percent of women in computer science programs are women. Is this because the women that are making these great accomplishments are under appreciated and under recognized?

AAUW is studying why women have low participation in STEM fields, and I hope more women and girls can look to these women as role models and realize the important role women played in the development and implementation of technology.

I know I am grateful for technology in my life. I don’t know how I functioned before my computers and cell phones. I am also grateful to these women for being my role models — my heroes.

By:   |   March 24, 2009

2 Comments

  1. How quickly can you answer the question “Who are the leading women in tech?”

    This question is posed by Lucie deLaBruere, Leadership Team member for the Northeastern Girls Collaborative and founder of TechSavvy Girls, in her latest post on Infinite Thinking Machine. The Friday Five challenges you to contribute to the number of female role models children and adults are exposed to as they explore the different areas of STEM. Get started with Lucie’s list of sites where you can easily locate names, pictures, stories of female role models to share with others. See the post @ http://www.infinitethinking.org/index.html

  2. [...] Until we see greater representation of superheroines, young women and girls will be out of luck finding something in stores or on screen. In the meantime, we need to show girls how they can be their own superheroes. [...]

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