The Lesser Known Predecessors to ‘Girls who Code’

Fruitful Gender Equality Bequeathed Us with Computer Fecundity

The true tale of how female software brigades of programmers united with a battalion of male hardware engineers has seldom been told, but it is worth highlighting as we are approaching the International Women’s Day on the 8th of March 2023.

At the dawn of computer science, the dominance of male hardware engineers was compact. To put it simply; for any additional tasks the computer had to be rebuilt physically. With a range of softer solutions, headed by female programmers, smarter pathways were developed. Today the fruits of both hardware and software developments are integral parts of our idea of a computer, and we no longer imagine these as specifically male or female. Both are inseparable and eventually emanated in the presently budding artificial intelligence.

In celebration of female ingenuity for computer science and AI development this article highlights a few important scientists.

Portrait of Ada Lovelace by British painter Margaret Sarah Carpenter (1836).1

Even though Ada Lovelace (1815–1852), daughter of Lord Byron, was born in London almost a century before any computer prototype, she is regarded as the first programmer and a computer pioneer. At the time the concept of an apparatus, an analytical engine, which could mechanise mathematical operations was examined – a milestone in computer science. Charles Babbage invented the term, and Ada interpretated this further and was the first to recognise that the machine could have applications beyond pure calculation. Ada published the first algorithm intended to be carried out by such a general-purpose machine.1

New York born Rear Admiral, mathematician and computer scientist Grace Hopper (1906–1992) invented the first compiler for a programming language and contributed to the programming of the Harvard Mark 1 computer. She was the mastermind behind popularizing machine-independent programming languages, which led to one of the first high-level programming languages, COBOL.2

Six women programmers, the ENIAC programmersKathleen Antonelli (née McNulty; formerly Mauchly, also known as the ‘Irish ‘mother of computer programming’), Jean Bartik (née Jennings), Betty Snyder HoldertonMarlyn Meltzer (née Wescoff), France Spence (née Bilas), and Ruth Teitelbaum (née Lichterman), gave the World the first fully electronic programmable computer. The ENIAC was a top-secret US military project during the second world war, and at this time were no programming languages, only logic diagrams. The six female scientists created a computer which could perform a large number of calculations in seconds, but they have not received credit for this work – very recently a project has started to both highlight and further research their contributions.3

The first female electrical engineer Edith Clarke (1883–1959) was also the first female professor of electrical engineering. She is widely known for the Clarke calculator; a device which by ten times speeded up the solutions of equations with hyperbolic functions.4

Collage of Evelyn Boyd Granville

Evelyn Boyd Granville (1924–), mathematician & pioneer in computer science, is a striking example of what advantages can be granted, when society’s discrimination of gender and ethnicities are defeated. She was the second African-American in the US the gain a PhD in mathematics in 1949 (Yale University) and entered the US Space Technology Laboratories  and took part in essential developments for the US space missions. She researched several fields, including computations of orbits and rocket trajectories. During the last 30 years of her academic career from 1967, she focused on teaching and advocating women’s education.5

The mathematician Sister Mary Kenneth Keller (1913–1985) was one of the first persons on the US to receive a PhD, was a forerunner in computer science and the development of programming languages, active at the National Science Foundation. She developed the wanted to popularise the computer education and developed the iconic program BASIC(standing for Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code). Sister Mary also founded the department of computer science at Clarke College.6

The electrical engineer from University of California at Berkeley  Carol Shaw (1955–) is most likely the first female video game designer, and started at Atari, where some of the most successful games of this company were created by her, for instance River Raid, Polo, 3-D, and Tic-Tac-Toe.7

The American software developer and inventor Janese Swanson (1958 –) founded Girl Tech, which mission it is to make tech more appealing to women, and co-developed the first of the Carmen Sandiego – a series of educational video games.8

Professor of electrical engineering Yonina Eldar (1973-) has researched areas including sampling methods and A/D design, compressed sensing, detection and estimation theory, optimization for signal processing, medical imaging, signal processing and optimization for communication systems, signal and image processing for optics, deep learning and graphs, computational biology. She is also known for her pioneering work on sub-Nyquist sampling.Her work has opened the eyes for the proximity between mathematics and medical science, and during the present era of artificial intelligence in healthcare, we may even see the Nobel prize for medicine or physiology awarded to a mathematician.

Among many global celebrations, the FEARLESS event in Stockholm, will take place on the 8th of March 2023. The Chief Medical Officer of Acorai Dr Niklas Lidströmer will of course attend. The founder of a company has the privilege to set the tone. The founders of Acorai actively choose an enlightened and modern agenda, encompassing gender equality, flat structure, LGBTIQA+ education9 and the 2030 United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) already from start.10 Hence, we strongly embrace these values, and highlight the International Women’s Day on the 8th of March 2023.

Next article will focus on inclusion, tolerance, and Alan Turing as a pivotal example.

More from the Acorai

More from the Acorai