Some Great Women of Programming

It frequently puzzles me that programming seems to be dominated by men when the founders of programming and many of the greatest programmers were women. I read an article that this may be contributed to by early home computers being advertised as game systems for boys, which tipped the scales temporarily.

Here are a few amazing women who pioneered the computer programing field.

Ada LovelaceLady Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852) Invented the idea of programming. Her father Lord Byron was known for his poetry. Lovelace was a poet of mathematics.

[The Analytical Engine] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine…Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent. –As quoted by Menabrea, Luigi (1842).

Grace Hopper“Amazing” Grace Murray Hopper (1906 – 1992) invented the idea of human readable programming languages, then created COBOL. She achieved the rank of Rear Admiral in the US Navy, then had a Missile Destroyer and Cray Supercomputer named after her. The term debugging was attributed to her discovering a moth in a computer at one point. She carried around a nanosecond worth of wire to help people understand the relation between size and speed of computers.

Humans are allergic to change. They love to say, “We’ve always done it this way.” I try to fight that. That’s why I have a clock on my wall that runs counter-clockwise.

Adele Goldstine (1920 – 1964) wrote the complete technical description for ENIAC, the first electronic digital computer. And the original programmers for ENIAC were also all women: Kay McNulty, Betty Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Meltzer, Fran Bilas, and Ruth Lichterman.Betty Jean Jennigs & Fran Bilas, ENIAC Programmers

Jean E. Sammet (1928 – ) developed the FORMAC programming language, a variation of FORTRAN.

Marissa Mayer (1975 – ) employee #20 at Google, and the first female engineer. Later went on to run Yahoo.

My daughters have as much, if not more, interest in computer programming than my boys. I hope we will continue to see more amazing women in computer programming!

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2 Responses to Some Great Women of Programming

  1. abouchez says:

    I would not put Marissa Mayer into the “amazing programmer” category. You can look at Margaret Hamilton code and design at NASA web site, and see truly amazing design here – which reached the moon! And perhaps instead of Jean Sammet, I would promote Barbara Liskov, whose principle I follow every day.

  2. Anon says:

    Indeed, Marissa Mayer is more in the “also women can do a lot of bad things” category.

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