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April 11, 2013

Five Women Who Revolutionized the Tech Sector

For all the accomplishments women have made in the various fields of literature, science and art, technology has long been seen as man’s dominion. Perhaps even more so than any arena, gridiron or baseball field.

To prove my point, here are the names of two female athletes that everyone knows: Serena and Venus Williams, all-star tennis players.

Now, without looking at the list below, name just one female computer programmer.

I’ll wait.

History Check

The assumption that women possess an inferior ability to create computer programs and push technology forward is, fortunately, not true. Technology exists, as we understand it today, because of the contributions of a number of brilliant women.  

But because this is not common knowledge, many capable young girls are skipping over the subject today. As a result, only one in four tech sector workers is a woman, even though they comprise 57 percent of the workforce.

Something else to consider is the fact that women are having a harder time recovering from the recession than men are. Considering the fastest growing industries are predominantly in the computer sciences, it is likely that this lag can be credited, in part, to a general failure to build high-tech resumes.

Here are just five of the women who have changed the course of technology, and five women that more young girls should learn about…and then emulate.

Hedy Lamarr

The sultry Austro-American actress may be best known for breaking boundaries with her controversial depictions of nudity and sexuality in 1933's Ecstasy. But a less commonly known fact is that all the Bluetooth technology you use wouldn't be around if not for Hedy Lamarr.

A lifelong interest in science and a desire to contribute to the war effort against Nazi Germany caused Lamarr design a radio signal that jumped from one radio frequency to another, enabling torpedoes to be guided to their targets without fear of signal disruption.

Once the technology was adopted by the Navy, it lay unused for many years. However, in 1997, the Electronic Frontier Foundation honored Lamarr for co-inventing spread spectrum broadcast communication technologies, which is the science behind Bluetooth devices.

Radia Perlman

If you've ever used, Facebook (News - Alert) or Pinterest, send a 'thank you' card to Radia Perlman. This is the woman considered to be the "Mother of the Internet" (a title she denies) and who has won dozens of awards for her work in developing the spanning tree algorithm in 1985. Her work transformed the Ethernet technology of the time – when communication between computers was limited to "neighbors" – to a protocol that was capable of connecting vast numbers of computers together, across different networks.

Perlman is basically responsible for the technology behind "networking" in "social networking."

Ada Lovelace

If technology is often seen as a man's domain, then the 1800s must have been positively stifling for a woman. That's why Ada Lovelace's contributions to computer science are all the more remarkable, most of all because her calculations predated computers by a century.

In 1828, long before women had a voice and when she was just 13 years of age, Lovelace created a design for a flying machine. Five years later, she met Charles Babbage, a professor of mathematics at Cambridge, who asked her to translate the notes of an Italian mathematician. As she did so, she made extensive notes of her own to the translation.

Compiled between 1842 and 1843, those notes constituted the world's first computer program.

Grace Hopper

Some women had the challenge of breaking through in two traditionally male-dominated industries. Grace Hopper rose to the task, developing not only the first computer programming languages of the modern era, but achieving the rank of Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy. Hopper popularized the concept of debugging – finding and reducing the number of defects in a computer system – when she literally removed a moth from a Mark II Computer at Harvard University.

Hopper passed away in 1992, but has a U.S. Navy destroyer named after her for her contributions to computer science.

Susan Kare

Computers would be nowhere if not for the visual aesthetic of the graphical user interface. It is, after all, a lot easier (and a lot more fun) to click on an icon instead of typing at a command prompt. The world owes a debt of gratitude to Susan Kare, an artist who was hired to create fonts for the burgeoning Macintosh Corporation. She redesigned the font system, previously based on typewriter typefaces that prized saving space over style or readability. Kare combined her interest in art with the practicality of traffic signs – easily identifiable at a glance – to create icons, buttons and shapes that gave Apple (News - Alert) machines their sleek, ergonomic and dashing visuals for a generation to come.

Edited by Braden Becker
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