Guest Post

Women in the History of Technology

Computer Weekly Ada Lovelace Cover

by Nicky Elkins

Women have made great strides in history, and continue to change society as we know it. One area that women have had a great impact is in technology. Majority of people think back to all of the men who changed technology, but there are plenty of women who helped shape it into what it is today. These women helped develop programming languages, personal computers, computer games, and much more.

Ada Byron, Lady of Lovelace

Ada Lovelace, as she is known now, was born on December 10th, 1815 in London. She was taught math at an early age by her father, Lord Byron. Lovelace was always interested in science and continued to try to develop different math algorithms, including one to manage large bets in gambling. One of her life dreams was to create a mathematical model of how the brain and nervous system functioned. However, she died before she was able to do so. One thing that she did do was translate the memoir of an Italian mathematician about Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine. In her translation, she added her own notes about the memoir, and included a way of calculating Bernoulli numbers. While the computer wasn’t developed until quite some time after her death on November 27th in 1852, her translation and method to calculating the Bernoulli numbers are considered to be the first computer program.

Mary Allen Wilkes

Mary Allen Wilkes attended Wellesley College and graduated in 1959 with a degree in Philosophy. After graduation though, she entered into the computing field when she started working for Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory. There she worked with the Laboratory INstrument Computer (LINC), which is considered to be the first minicomputer before personal computing devices. She created several different operating systems and programs for the LINC, one of which becoming the standard program development software, and the LINC Console. During her time at MIT, she also had a LINC in her home, which means she had the first home computer. She later left MIT to work in the Computer System Laboratory at Washington State University in St. Louis. There she worked on designing the multiply macromodule. Since then, she has left the computer science field and has moved on to be an arbitrator and attorney.

Roberta Williams

Roberta Williams attended the Control Data Institute and after getting married and having 2 children, she decided she wanted to create a computer adventure game. She came up with the game Mystery House and created the company On-Line Systems, later known as Sierra On-Line, with her husband Ken Williams. Mystery House was released in 1980 and was known as the first graphic adventure game. Williams went on to create over 20 different adventure computer games, and has been named as “one of the most influential people in computer gaming of all time” by GameSpot. She retired in 1999, but she has released a new game, Old Manor, that is available through Facebook.

Radia Perlman

Radia Perlman went to MIT and received a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in mathematics, as well as a Ph.D. in Computer Science. As an undergraduate, she was able to take on a research opportunity with the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, where she created LOGO, an educational robotics language. The project was called TORTIS, and introduced computer programing to 6 different children. The children would program an educational robot, Turtle, with LOGO. Because of this, Perlman is the first person to introduce computer programing to children. While at the MIT Lab, she was able to develop a program that used the basic concepts from hardware and software. This program later lead to her being called “the inventor of tangible computing.” After she graduated, she went on to develop over 70 patents with even more in the works. She was later awarded with an honorary Ph.D. in Computer Science by the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology. Currently, Perlman works at Sun Microsystem as an Engineer.

Mary Lou Jepsen

Mary Lou Jepsen has a Bachelor’s degree in Studio Art and Electrical Engineering a Ph.D. in Optical Sciences and a Master’s degree in Holography from MIT Media Lab. Several of her creations and ideas have been adopted worldwide in head-mounted display systems, HDTV and projector products. While at MIT, she co-created the first holographic video system in 1989. She went on to co-found Microdisplay in 1995, which worked to create tiny displays. In 2005, Jepsen joined up with Nocholas Negroponte to design, develop, and manufacture computers for the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project. The OLPC program allowed children in developing countries and areas to have access to a durable, cheap laptop, in order to promote education. In 2008, she is listed in Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world for her work in creating the XO netbook computer. Also in 2008, she decided to leave OLPC to create her own for-profit company, Pixel Qi.

These are just a few influential women in the technology field, and a few of their accomplishments. There are many more women who have helped change technology into what it is today. So, the next time you are using your gaming pc, laptop, desktop, or even your cell phone, remember the influential women who were able to contribute concepts, theories, and inventions to help you play your new computer game or even to just get on Facebook.

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Nicky Elkins is a freelance writer from Pensacola, Florida. She attended the University of West Florida and earned her Graduate degree in Creative Writing. Nicky now uses her gift for writing and her love of all things technology to help others enjoy and understand consumer electronics, social media, and the coolest new gadgets.

3 Replies to “Women in the History of Technology”

  1. Lee Carey

    This is great and I would also think Grace Murray Hopper 1906 – 1992 a contibuting scientist

  2. Carolyn

    What a wonderful list of influential woman. Their accomplishments impress me as not only innovative, but ahead of their time.

  3. ClinialPosters

    Clever how the list funnels down to you. 😉

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