Women in Technology

A Hidden History

In the 20th century, women were denied access to many professions, were only granted degrees at Oxford & Cambridge in the 1920s & secured the right to vote in Switzerland as late as 1971. In Ireland, there only 91 women at university in 1901, only 5% of marred women had jobs outside the home in 1966 & only in 1973 was the ban on married women working in the Irish Public Service lifted.

Yet in spite of these obstacles, enlightened women have over the centuries made significant contributions to advances in communications technology.







World’s First Computer Programmer

Augusta Ada King Countess of Lovelace, daughter of the British Romantic poet Lord Byron, is recognised as the world’s first computer programmer. In 1842 she wrote the first ever algorithm for processing numbers on Charles Bannage’s early mechanical general purpose computer or analytical engine who, so impressed by her mathematical skills, referred to her as ‘ The Enchantress of Numbers”. The computer language ADA was named after her.

24 March is commemorated as Ada Lovelace Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science






Hollywood Movie Star Inventor

Austrian-born Hedy Lamarr (née Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler), one of the legendary stars of Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age’, co-designed in 1941 a radio guided torpedo system based on ‘frequency hopping’ (changing signal frequencies to prevent electrical interference by enemy devices ) which became known as spectrum spread, a key element later in the anti-jamming devices used by US military satellite communication control systems and a key element of digital mobile phone wireless technology.






Naval Commander & Mathematician

Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (Mother of Cobol) is one of America’s most famous pioneers in computer science. In 1944, she was one of the first programmers of the Marvard Mark 1 electro-mechanical computer, and developed in 1952 the first compiler for a computer programmer language. She conceptualized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages. She is also credited with popularizing the term “debugging” for fixing computer glitches (motivated by an actual moth removed from the computer).






NIAC’s All-Female Programming team

ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer), launched in 1946, was probably the world’s first general-purpose electronic digital computer. Eniac’s key 6 member programming team were all women, including Kathleen (Kay) Rita McNulty who was born in the Donegal Gaeltacht Ireland in 1921. Her family later emigrated to the USA and she qualified with a Mathematics degree in 1942.  In 1946 she married John Mauchly, the co-inventor of Eniac, and worked on the software design of his later computers including the BINIAC and UNIVAC.





World’s First Mini-Computer Operating System

Mary Allen Wilkes was a key member of the MIT Lincoln Center in Massachusetts from 1958-1963 where she was the designer of an operating system for the LINC (Laboratory Instrument Computer), the world’s first minicomputer. In 1965, she used a LINC computer in her private house, which could be considered the world’s first ‘home’ computer.





First Popular Programming Language

Jean E. Sammet graduated with an MA in Mathematics in 1949. In 1961, she became manager of IBM’s Programming Center in Boston  and oversaw the development of FORMAC (FORmula MAnipulation Compiler), the first widely used general language and the first to manipulate symbolic algebraic expressions.







Inventor of Computerised Phone System

Erna Hoover created a computerized telephone switching system whilst working at Bell Laboratories New Jersey.  She designed the stored programme control that monitored incoming calls, prioritized incoming phone traffic and eliminated overloading problems which had previously led to switchboards freezing up.

Iconic Designer

Susan Kare was a member of the team that designed the pioneering Macintosh computer in the early 1980s, creating many of its user interface icons (Paint Bucket, Happy Macintosh) and fonts (New York & Geneva). She later designed icons for Microsoft Windows 3.0.