Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs. What do they have in common? They’re men and they’re the pioneers of technology that we constantly talk about, that we place on the pedestal of IT Gods. But whilst they made great strides, they were Apostles and not Gods. The lady at the top of the picture, she’s one of the true Gods. Who is she? She’s Grace Hopper. Actually, she’s the absolutely amazing Rear Admiral Grace Hopper.
Grace was the mother of software development and she was a Rear Admiral in the US Navy. There, in one sentence we’ve managed to blow away the stereotypes that we allow ourselves to believe. A military leader who knew not just how to code but helped set the stage for the design and adoption of COBOL and later languages who is a woman.
She was that important they named a US Naval ship after her, the USS Hopper and Yale named a college to honour her legacy. Still sitting comfortably guys? Is technology and software development a just a ‘man thing’?
Let’s take another look. The lady in the picture below, that’s Dorothy Vaughan. Dorothy worked for NASA and was the first not only woman, but the first African-American woman to boot who helped set the NASA computer teams on their way. There was a movie that drew upon her life, Hidden Figures.
Please indulge me a little as I go on and summarise below a few of the other pioneers who just happen to be women who helped start the technology industry that women still struggle to find a footing in today.
· Beatrice Cave-Brown-Cave helped calculate bomb trajectories in the first world war
· Mary Clem designed the ‘zero check’ method to identify calculation errors
· Joan Clarke worked with Alan Turing on the enigma machine
· Hedy Lamar, the actress, helped to develop radio-controlled torpedoes in WW2
· Joyce Currie Little was a developer analysing data for aircraft wind tunnel testing
· Thelma Estrin helped design WEIZAC, one of the first large-scale programmable computers
· Mary Kenneth Keller helped to develop the BASIC programming language at Dartmouth
· Adele Goldberg was one of the team members that developed the Smalltalk language
· Susan Kare designed the moving clock and trash can when at Apple with Steve Jobs
· Dona Bailey designed the beloved 80’s arcade game Centipede
· Roberta Williams worked with her husband to develop the Kings Quest game series
The list frankly could go and on, its clear that women have always played a pivotal role in the technology industry and will continue to do so. Given the tilted gender balance in the IT industry in favour of men, what we’ve achieved so far is stunning. No wonder the men are afraid to let us get behind the keyboard.
So, we need to stop believing that men founded the IT industry without us, we let them play a part, that’s for sure but it was as much our industry as theirs. We have movies and even battleships proudly sharing the role women have played in the technology industry.
Guys, if you look up at the list of leading ladies you can’t help but recognise that women are as just as much a part of the industry and its history as men have been. So, shuffle up, move to one side, and let’s start to play together shall we?
Ladies, we own the industry as much as the men, we’re peers, colleagues, equals in the game. Let’s start to change our own language a little and instead of quoting the names Gates or Jobs when we talk about industry founders, why not instead use Hopper or Vaughan? The more we talk about the historic role that we’ve played so far, the more we realise that we belong and perhaps, we can help men to understand that the industry belongs to us as much as them.