Technology’s Foremothers

By Kakai Mabonga, Content Contributor at Chic Geek 

Few of us know about them, but there are many historical women in technology. In fact, more women were engaged in technology in the past than there are today. According to TechRepublic, in the mid-1980s, 37% of computer science majors were women. In 2012, that number dropped to 12%. Years ago we had amazing illustrations of women in science and technology.

From Ada Lovelace to Dame Stephanie Shirley, these ladies have made important contributions to the STEM industry. These role models are perfect inspirations for women today:

ay95895977ada lovelace engl2Ada Lovelace: Lovelace was one of the first computer programmers. She wrote the first algorithm designed to be carried out by a machine. She passed away in 1852, but her previously little-known work and “poetical” approach to science has recently been revealed. To this day she inspires young women interested in computer programming.

Commodore Grace M. Hopper USN coveredGrace Hopper: Hopper was a mathematician and computer programmer. She was also a military leader for the US Navy in WWII. She led the team that created the first computer language compiler, and also worked on the Mark I and Mark II computers at Harvard. Fun fact: Grace Hopper is given credit for the term “computer bug”: when a moth flew into a relay for the Mark II computer, she remarked that they were “debugging” the system. The term took off.


269508main Katherine johnson2Katherine Johnson: Johnson is an African-American physicist, space scientist, and mathematician. She contributed to the USA’s aeronautics and space programs at NASA as it transitioned to digital electronic computers. Johnson began working for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in 1953. When President John F. Kennedy charged the country to send a man to the moon before the end of the 1960’s, Johnson joined the team that would make this happen.  She calculated the trajectory for America’s first space mission in 1961, an early step towards a moon landing. She went on to carry out the calculations for the first actual moon landing in 1969.

NASA Science and Engineering Newsletter Annie Easley

Annie Easley: Easley was another important contributor to modern spaceflight. She was a computer programmer, mathematician and rocket scientist for NASA. She worked on the Centaur, a high-energy booster rocket with a mixed liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen propulsion system. It is considered one of the greatest achievements by NASA’s Lewis Research Center.

maxresdefaultDame Stephanie Shirley: The Sapling Foundation – which runs the influential TED conferences – describes Shirley as the most successful tech entrepreneur you never heard of. In the 1960s, she founded a pioneering all-woman software company in the UK, called Freelance Programmers. At that time, she changed her name to “Steve”, so that men in the industry would take her seriously. Her tech company took on many projects, and even programmed the black box flight recorder for the Concord. Her company was ultimately valued at $3 billion, making 70 of her team members millionaires.

Of course, these are just a few of the many women involved in technology throughout history. But despite the strides made by these women, it seems as though our numbers are dwindling. In 2013, only 26% of the computing workforce were women. Not only that, but 56% of women in technology leave their employers midcareer.

So how can we improve these numbers for the future? How can we get women to not only join this industry, but stay in it too? Stories, or even posts such as this one that highlight the accomplishments of women in IT, can help encourage women to join. By learning about female tech leaders and uplifting the women following in their footsteps, our numbers can grow. Young women and girls are now showing interest in IT and we want these numbers to soar.

The signs are encouraging. In the spring of 2014, the University of California Berkeley reported that, for the first time since it began keeping records, there were more women than men (106 to 104) enrolled in its introductory computer science course. The school had changed the class’ name from “Introduction to Symbolic Programming” to the “Beauty and the Joy of Computing,” and female enrollment increased by 50%.

Not only am I a part of the IT workforce here in Calgary, but I’m also a part of Chic Geek. Chic Geek is a non-profit organization that creates a supportive, confidence-building community around women who want to explore technology and entrepreneurship. Our vision is to encourage women to be builders and creators who leverage technology to shape the world we live in. We accomplish this through programs and events, such as hack nights where women can work on projects and get some help and guidance. We also have code workshops, mentorship programs and an annual Geeky Dinner!

Getting women interested in tech, or to even enroll in these courses, just takes some revamping, whether that’s in the curriculum of the class or simply making technology look more interesting.There is definitely more work that can be doneto increase our numbers and at Chic Geek we aim to do just that!

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