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Women programmers. Women in the history of programming

March 8, 2019

Women programmers. Women in the history of programming

This post is also available in : Spanish

Women Programmers: Who were the most influential?

As far as we know, computer programming seems to be a field entirely occupied by men. In fact, if we go to the evidence and the data is quite embarrassing: they tell us of a large majority of men working in this job after finishing their studies and of the few women programmers who, despite having studied it, finally perform it.

Of course, different groups, institutions and companies interested in gender parity and diversity struggle to promote the insertion of women in this type of work. A job that, as we know, is the future. Since, we need programmers.

The fact that there are currently few women programmers, or not enough for the perfect gender mix, does not mean that throughout history there have not been women programmers. In fact, we are going to see how they have had an essential participation in the events in the world of programming.

Women programmers: Margaret Hamilton

Computer scientist, mathematician, and systems engineer born in the United States in 1936.

Margaret became the software engineering director of the project that carried out the writing of the Apollo Computer Guide (AGC) code. This code was created in the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory for that little Apollo 11 trip. As you know, Apollo 11 was that manned space mission that had the purpose of human beings walking on the Moon.

“When I first arrived, no one knew what we were doing. It was like the Wild West. There were no rules. We learned everything ourselves,” Hamilton commented. Practically all the programmers had to create everything from scratch. Even so, the tenacity and effort were amply rewarded: we reached the Moon and a new type of industry was created with Hamilton at the forefront as an expert in systems programming.

Women programmers: Grace Hopper

Grace Murray Hopper, born in 1902 in the United States, was a computer scientist and U.S. military admiral.

Among her achievements, being a pioneer in the creation of accessible programming languages.

From the beginning, as a misunderstood visionary, Grace saw the need for computer science to spread in non-scientific circles, and that simpler programming languages would be needed for this. Her key idea was simple (it may seem to us now) but revealing and took many years to be accepted. However, thanks to her struggle and perseverance, she created a programming medium based on words rather than numbers. It is known as COBOL language (Co mmon B usiness O rientated L anguage). If you’ve heard about David Letterman’s Late Night program, you can find Grace defining herself as “Software Queen”.

Women programmers: ENIAC girls

During World War II, artillerymen aimed their weapons using firing charts; these charts included the trajectories followed by the missiles. Normally each table included about three thousand trajectories, and each trajectory required about 750 calculations. The calculations were made on their own by women with studies in mathematics.

This military purpose had the ENIAC computer and the work of programming the ENIAC was assigned to six women. These girls ended up creating the basics of computer programming, developing the first library of routines and the first software applications. However, they were not recognized at the time. Betty Snyder Holberton (1917-2001), Betty Jean Jennings Bartik (1924-2011), Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum (1924-1986), Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli (1921-2006), Frances Bilas Spence (1922-2012), Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer (1922-2008).

Women programmers: Ada Lovelace

Perhaps you know more about his father, the romantic poet Lord Byron. But the daughter of the Englishman was not left behind at all, she was an eminent Victorian mathematician.

Charles Babbage, with whom he worked hand in hand on his calculating machines, spoke of her as the “charming of numbers”.

Needless to say, although at the time there were not many women studying science, Lovelace stood out in the field, and not only that, she is considered the founder of computer science and also the first computer programmer in history. You can read more about Ada Lovelace here.

Thanks to the British Museum of Science we know that Ada established what we might consider modern computing, and that her notes on the description of machines contain the first estimated algorithms designed for the operation of machines. She also hypothesized on the idea of similar devices for music or the creation of graphics.

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