The tech you know and love, the women you’ve never heard of.
Raise your hand if you’ve heard of Ava Lovelace? Mary Wilkes? Adele Goldberg? Theirs may not be household names, but their work, innovation, and research laid the foundation for today’s pivotal technologies like the internet, search algorithms, the personal computer, and domain names. We’re taking a moment during Women’s History Month to pay tribute to the women who dramatically changed the tech landscape, and the world, as we know it.
Here are just a handful of the pioneering women who’ve changed the world.
Grace Hopper (1906 – 1992). A Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy, Hopper began her computing careerworking on the Harvard Mark I. She was an early and committed advocate for a programming language based in English, a “more user friendly” language. Her work significantly contributed to the development of COBOL, a programming language still used today. She wrote the world’s first computer programing manual and coined the phrase, a computer “bug,” and the concept of “debugging” a computer that experiences a malfunction. She retired from the Navy at age 79 as the oldest serving officer in the U.S. Armed Service. Radia Perlman (1952 – ). Often called the “Mother of the Internet,” Perlman developed the algorithm behind the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP). Her work basically put into place traffic rules for the Internet and laid the groundwork for Network Security. During her career, Perlman’s innovations earned approximately 80 patents and she was named one of the most influential people in IT by Data Communications Magazine.
Adele Goldberg (1945 – ) Goldberg played a key role in the development of SmallTalk-80,an object-oriented programming language that underpins today’s Graphic User Interfaces (GUIs), the windows, icons, menus, and pointers that make the use of computers today so much more intuitive than it was at the industry’s inception. It was a product demonstration of SmallTalk-80 that inspired Steve Jobs to create the Macintosh OS. In 1996 Goldberg received PC Magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2010 was inducted into the Women in Technology International’s Hall of Fame.
Elizabeth Feinler (1931 – ) Known as “Jake,” Elizabeth Feinler managed the first Arpanet and wasdirector of the Network Information Systems Center (NIC) at Stanford Research Institute. While leading the NIC, Jake’s team developed the first query-based network hostname and address server and managed the host-naming registry, developing the domain naming scheme of .com, .edu, .gov, .org, .net, .mil which are still in use today. After her work at SRI, she went on to help set up NASA’s Science Internet and the guidelines for managing NASA’s World Wide Web. Feinler was inducted into the Internet Society Hall of Fame in 2012 and into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame in 2018.
Mary Wilkes (1937 – 2022) When Wilkes graduated from Wellesley College in 1959, her dreams ofbeing a lawyer were dashed by mentors who discouraged her ambitions because of the challenges women faced in the legal field. So instead, Wilkes walked into MIT’s employment offices in search of a job in the fledgling field of computer programming. They hired her and eventually assigned her to work on the prominent LINC project, the creation of one of the world’s first personal computers. Wilkes role was to help write the software that enabled a user to give the computer commands in real time. She was the first person to have a personal computer in her home. After making her mark on the world of computing, Wilkes pursued her original dream and practiced as a lawyer for 40 years, including in private practice and as head of the Economic Crime and Consumer Protection Division of the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts.