It is a little known fact that some of the first computers at Harvard were programmed by women. During World War 2, all of Bletchley Park’s top secret codes were broken by women. A lot of NASA’s early space flights were also powered by female engineers and mathematicians.
In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ve put together a list of powerhouse women who have made priceless contributions to the field of computer science, and should serve as important role models for young girls who want to enter the field.
1. Ada Lovelace- The First Computer Programmer
No worthy list of computer science greats is complete without her. Born in London in 1815, to a poet father and a mathematician mother, Ada Lovelace was trained in mathematics from a young age, by her mother. She worked closely with Charles Babbage, and is credited as the writer of the very first computer programme. She displayed such an advanced understanding of logic and computation that her notes are used even in modern day computer science.
2. Katharine Johnson – The Human Computer
Katharine Johnson was a mathematician who worked with NASA on many critical space missions. She was so good at math that she helped to confirm the accuracy of the computers used by NASA for calculations at the time. She calculated the trajectory for the first human American space flight in 1961, and for John Glenn’s 1962 orbital mission. She also worked on Project Apollo’s Lunar Lander, the Space Shuttle, and the Earth Resources Satellite. As an African-American woman, she had a doubly difficult uphill battle to fight in the white, male dominated field of aerospace engineering. Her life and work are the subject of the 2016 film Hidden Figures.
3. Grace Murray Hopper – Inventor of the Compiler
One of the most important aspects of programming is the compiler. A compiler is an intermediate program that is responsible for translating English language instructions or code into machine level code. Admiral Grace Hopper invented the compiler in 1949 when she was part of the United States Navy, and revolutionized the field of computer science. She was also one of the first programmers for the Harvard Mark 1 computer used in the war effort for World War 2. Her work became the basis of the common business computing language known as COBOL, which is still in use today. The Grace Hopper Celebration, the world’s largest gathering of women technologists, is named in her honor.
4. Kateryna Lohvynivna Yushchenko – The Machine Whisperer
In the 50s, as programs got more complex, it got very difficult to write them in low level languages, or a language that a machine could understand easily.
Kateryna Lohvynivna Yushchenko was a Soviet scientist born in 1919
Kateryna Lohvynivna Yushchenko was a Soviet scientist born in 1919 who is credited with developing one of the world’s first high level programming languages. A high level programming language is one that has a high level of abstraction, which means the code written is close to regular English. Python is a popular high level programming language.
Yushckenko developed something called Address programming language, which was used to write complex code that was almost impossible to write until then.
5. Margaret Hamilton – The Woman who put Man on the Moon
Margaret Hamilton, born in 1936, is an American computer scientist and systems engineer who led the Software Engineering Division in MIT. NASA credits her with coining the term “software engineering.” Hamilton worked on software development for Apollo 11, the first spacecraft to complete a successful mission that placed humans on the moon in 1969. When Hamilton started using the term “software engineering” during the early Apollo missions, software development was not taken seriously compared to other engineering, nor was it regarded as a science. She was one of the first people to work to make software engineering a widely regarded and respected discipline.
These are just a few in a long list of incredible women in computer science. Yet sadly, even today, there are far less young girls that choose to pursue careers in technology than boys. While things are certainly changing, it is up to us to give our girls the confidence and encouragement they need to excel in STEM.
Does your daughter want to explore a career in technology? Explore our online coding classes for kids where she can learn how to develop virtual reality games, build apps and websites, and even program a self driving car.