Celebrating Women Technology Innovators

Written by Ginger Breon, Chief Technology Officer

two women operating high-tech equipmentIn 1987, 36 years ago (not that long ago), congress designated the month of March as “Women’s History Month.” For the month of March, we celebrate women’s contributions to history, culture and society.

Do you recognize any of these names without a Google search?

  1. Ada Lovelace
  2. Grace Hopper
  3. Hedy Lamarr
  4. Annie Easley
  5. Mary Allen Wilkes
  6. Adele Goldberg
  7. Radia Perlman
  8. Katherine Johnson
  9. Karen Sparck-Jones
  10. Elizabeth Joceyln “Jake” Feinler

Thanks to the 2016 movie Hidden Figures I recognized Katherine Johnson’s name – one of the first African American women to be a NASA scientist. Her “human computer” capabilities enabled spaceflights! I recall after watching the movie, feeling embarrassed for not recognizing her name and her incredible contributions. In 2015 at the age of 97, Katherine Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The women thought leaders listed above built and transformed the tech world. Yes, names like Jobs, Gates and Dell have high recognition for technology breakthroughs. But the expertise and groundbreaking innovations of these women significantly contributed to the technology revolution:

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) – known as the first computer programmer. She was also a mother, a Countess and a brilliant mathematician.

Grace Hopper (1906-1992) – a programmer whose work built the Harvard Mark I computer and developed the theory to create COBOL language. Grace was also a United States Navy rear admiral and professor of mathematics. 

Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000) – inventor of frequency-hopping signal system that laid the foundation for Bluetooth and GPS technologies. She was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for this work. Hedy was also an actress and mother.

Annie Easley (1933-2011) – computer scientist who developed software for the Centaur rocket stage that laid the foundations for future space shuttle launches. Annie was one of the first African Americans to work at NASA. She was a mathematician and rocket scientist. 

Mary Allen Wilkes (1937-present) – computer programmer and logic designer for the LINC computer that she used from her home (early flexible work schedule), becoming known as the world’s first interactive personal computer. Imagine the floor space it took up! Mary left the technology field to become a lawyer – an interesting career path.

Adele Goldberg (1945-present) – computer scientist who co-developed the programming language Smalltalk-80, object-oriented programming that inspired the very first Apple computer. Adele was also chairwoman and CEO of ParcPlace Systems, a company she cofounded.

Radia Perlman (1951-present) – computer programmer and network engineer. Radia invented the spanning-tree protocol (STP), the foundation for the operation of network bridges. This breakthrough work has coined Radia as the Mother of the Internet. As an inventor, she has more than 100 issued patents.

Karen Sparck-Jones (1935-2007) – programmer and computer scientist who developed the concept of inverse document frequency (IDF), technology that enables search engines. Karen was an advocate for women in computer science. She was also a schoolteacher.

Elizabeth Jocelyn “Jake” Feinler (1931-present) – information scientist and former director of the Network Information Systems Center at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI). Elizabeth led the development of the first establishment to publish resources and directories for the Internet (white and yellow pages). Her team also created the domain naming scheme of .com, .edu, .gov, .net and more.

What do all these amazing women have in common in addition to their transformative impact on technology innovations? They were very successful in other endeavors like being a lawyer, professor, CEO, inventor, mother, schoolteacher, rocket scientist, actress, mathematician and Navy admiral. Also, they were overlooked for their thought leadership in shaping the technological world we know today and its impact on society.

The lack of recogntion for these women and their contributions can certainly be linked to the the fact that Women's History Month was established mere 36 years ago, near the end of their careers. Therefore, it is essential that we take time to acknowlegde these and other women’s contributions to making our world a better place.