Did you know that the world’s first programmers were women?
While women make over 50% of the world’s population, their contributions to technology are often sidetracked. Many countries have been celebrating a dedicated day for women every year since 1917 on March 8th. In 1967, it was finally adopted by the United Nations, and this day marked the International Women’s Day.
To celebrate Women’s International Day, here are some of the world’s most influential women in technology, who shaped our modern world today as we know it.
The Contributions of Women in Modern Technology
Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852)
Developed a computer algorithm before computers existed
Daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace has been immortalized by the object-oriented programming language named after her.
Considered the world’s first computer programmer, the English Ada Lovelace, born in 1815, developed an algorithm when computers didn’t exist.
She wrote the world’s first computer algorithm when she was working on translating an article on Charles Babbage’s “analytical engine” from Italian to English – where she added extensive notes (over three pages longer than the original article), and eventually introduced many novel computer concepts.
She saw mathematics beyond what was considered mathematics at the time.
Katherine Johnson (1918 – 2020)
Enabled early space exploration
Born in 1918, Katherine Johnson was the first woman to receive credit as an author of a research report within the Flight Research Division at NASA. She was also one of NASA’s early African American women scientists.
The subject of the 2016 movie Hidden Figures, Katherine Johnson’s many responsibilities included calculating trajectories and emergency return paths for spaceflights, including those for Alan Shepard’s, America’s first man in space, and John Glenn, America’s first man in orbit.
Her orbital mechanics calculations were responsible for the success of America’s first crewed spaceflights and space exploration initiatives.
Reem Al Marzouqi
Paving the way for hands-free driving
The Emirati engineer and inventor, Reem Al Marzouqi, is considered the first UAE citizen to be granted a patent in the US.
Known most for this contribution in tech: Reem Al Marzouqi invented a “Lower Extremity Vehicle Navigation Control System,” the first of its kind in the world, which aims to enable people to drive cars without using their hands. It is an innovation that is based on an acceleration lever and a brake lever, deeming a car entirely controllable without having to use their hands at all.
Her contributions enables her to be featured as one of the 50 Most Influential Women in the Arab World in 2018 by Arabian Business.
Rana el Kaliouby
Shaping the conversation around ethical artificial intelligence
The Egyptian-American computer scientist and entrepreneur, Rana el Kaliouby, is making great strides within expression recognition research and tech development. Her contributions are reforming the facial recognition field as we know it today, enabling machines to identify facial expressions more accurately.
Rana’s contributions are currently shaping the global conversation around AI ethics, and artificial emotional intelligence, a term she coins as “Emotion AI.”
Having earned her PhD from Cambridge University, she joined the MIT Media Lab as a research scientist, and now works with 25% of Fortune 500 companies through her startup, as a leader in “Emotion AI.”
Her work rose her title to be named in Forbes’s America’s Top 50 Women in Tech, and Fortune’s 40 Under 40. She was also chosen by the World Economic Forum to be a Young Global Leader and a member of the Future Global Council on Robotics and Artificial Intelligence.
Grace Hopper (1906 – 1992)
Transformed code into language
A pioneer of computer programming, Grace Hopper invented one of the first linkers, and brought attention to machine-independent programming languages that eventually enabled the development of COBOL, a high-level programming language that we still use today.
She assisted in developing the world’s first business-oriented machine, the UNIVAC 1 computer, and the first compiler (a software responsible for translating arithmetic into language). Her work popularized the idea that code can be written and read like language.
Annie Easley (1933 – 2011)
Developed code for hybrid car batteries
One of NASA’s first female rocket scientists and computer engineers, Annie Easley was also one of the four African American employees at the Lab.
Known most for this tech contribution: She was responsible for developing and implementing code that was later used in researching energy-conversion systems and studying alternative power technologies. This includes the analysis of battery technology, which was eventually used for early hybrid vehicles.
According to NASA, her work also contributed to inspiring many of America’s minorities to enter the field of STEM, as she took on an additional role as the equal employment opportunity counselor. Hence, Annie Easley’s work did not only inspire forward-thinking, environmentally friendly technology, but it also inspired hundreds to enter the STEM field.
Karen Spärck Jones (1935 – 2007)
Brought modern search engines to life
A professor of emeritus of computer and information at the University of Cambridge, Karen Spärck Jones made enormous contributions to the field of natural language processing that changed the way we search for information online today.
Her work enabled us to search for queries and use the computer through typing in natural language and ordinary words rather than using equations and codes.
How do search engines identify important documents from heaps of content? Karen discovered and enabled “term weighting” which is the statistical method that allows computers to evaluate the importance of any word or search term within many documents. Search engines use this to help ‘rank’ a document according to its importance in relation to a user’s query.
Her work also paved the way for computers to recognize semantically related words in language processing – a contribution that revolutionized the way we receive valuable results for search queries today.
Elizabeth “Jake” Feinler
The human search engine
The information scientist Elizabeth Feinler, who went by the nickname Jake, worked on developing the modern Internet when it was known as the ARPAnet and was a series of nodes. The US Department of Defense primarily used it.
Before the Internet was what it is today, people would have to ask Jake, instead of modern Google, for a web address. Before GoDaddy, people would also call her to register a new web address.
She worked with a team to introduce the Domain Name System (DNS), and they were known as the ‘naming authority’ of the Internet, where they managed and developed the name registries of some of the highest level domains of .com,.gov, .edu, .org, .mil, and .us.
Susan Kare (1954)
Beautified modern tech
Susan Kare’s contributions to modern visual tech have changed so much more than we know about modern mobile phones. She was the 10th employee of NeXT (the company formed by Steve Jobs after he left Apple), and she’s since worked for Microsoft, IBM, Facebook, and Pinterest.
The artist and graphic designer built some of Apple’s trademark designs, including many of Apple’s signature typefaces, and icons. She is one of the early pioneers of ‘pixel art.’
Originally a venture capitalist, Noor Sweid’s contributions to the tech sphere in the Middle East and North Africa swept international headlines.
In 2018, Noor Sweid was celebrated by Forbes as one of the World’s Top 50 Women in Tech. She also received the Arab Woman Award for Finance, and was in Arabian Business’s 100 Most Powerful Arab Women list three times.
The Dubai-based venture capitalist is “the only woman currently at the helm of a VC fund in the region” according to Arabian Business, and is the first woman to lead an IPO within the region. Previously the Chief Investment Officer of Dubai Future Foundation, she helped lay the foundations for an innovation and tech innovation ecosystem within Dubai.
Six women who programmed the first electrical computer
Programming in its early years was known for being an excessively tedious and lengthy process, and was mostly carried out by women in the 20th century.
Designed by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert, the development of ENIAC, the world’s first electronic general-purpose digital computer, was carried out mostly by women mathematicians.
Considered the world’s first coders, a group of six women were primarily responsible for programming the ENIAC. Their work, which was initially being conducted for the US Military, resulted in giving rise to the development of computer memory and storage, and the world’s first software program.
Technology in 2020
There are many, many, more women who have contributed to modern technology. The ones listed above are just a handful.
Modern technology has evolved since the 20th century into the fourth industrial revolution, mainly carried by innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Read more around the latest insights around these latest technologies on Saal’s blog