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Innovative Tech Women for the History Books

For those that don’t know, today is International Women’s Day. It’s a day to celebrate the accomplishments of women from all walks of life and times.

Today we want to recognize 10 women who have led and paved the way for technological advancements.

Kimberly Bryant

Bryant is an electrical engineer who worked in biotechnology at Genentech, Novartis Vaccines, Diagnostics and Merck before founding Black Girls Code in 2011. The organization aims to teach young girls the basics of computer programming and encourages them to pursue STEM fields. Black Girls Code has already trained 3,000 girls (aged 7 to 17) within the United States and Johannesburg, South Africa, and has plans to expand to eight more cities.

Sophie Wilson

Wilson has been coined the “Mother of the smartphone and tablet.” While working at Acorn –a computer company –she and a colleague, Steve Furber, designed and implemented the prototype for the BBC Microcomputer in under a week. As the two refined their prototype, Wilson designed the operation system and wrote the BBB basic interpreter. After the BBC Microcomputer, Wilson again worked with Furber to design the 32-bit RISC Machine processor, which was used in the BBC Micro, Acorn’s the Archimedes and Apple’s the Newton. Now that same processor is used in approximately 95 percent of smartphones.

Hedy Lamarr

Lamarr was an actress and inventor, and responsible for a jam-proof radio guidance system for torpedoes during World War I with the help of composer George Antheil, which was patented in 1942, but not implemented by the Navy until the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. This technology was the basis of the modern spread-spectrum communication technology used in CDMS, Wi-Fi networks and Bluetooth pairing. Both Lamarr and Antheil received the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award and Builbie Gnass Spirit of Achievement Bronze Award in 1997 to recognize their contribution to society. They were also posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Evelyn Boyd Granville

Granville was the second African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics at a United States university. In 1952, she worked as a mathematician for the National Bureau of Standards where she used mathematics to develop missile fuses. In 1956, she moved to the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), which was contracted to NASA. There she created and implemented software that was used for Project Vanguard and Project Mercury. In 1960, Granville moved to Los Angeles to perform research for the computation and Data Reduction Center of Space Technology before accepting a position on the Apollo Project in 1962.

The ENIAC Six

During World War II, six women were chosen to program the ENIAC: Betty Holberton, Kay McNutty, Marlyn Wescoff, Ruth Lichterman, Betty Jean Jennings and Fran Bilas. The secret project required that these six ladies program the first all-electronic programmable computer for the U.S. Army without any language or tools (because none existed yet). The ladies had only logical diagrams to guide their programming. Once finished, the ENIAC could run a ballistics trajectory in seconds.

Edith Clarke

Clarke was the first female electrical engineer and first female professor of electrical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. While working for General Electric in the Turbine Engineering Department, Clarke invented the Clarke calculator – a device that used electric current, voltage and impedance in power transmission lines to solve equations – which she patented in 1925. She also became the first woman to deliver a paper at the American Institute of Electrical Engineers’ (AIEE) annual meeting. She submitted subsequent papers throughout her career, two of which won AIEE awards.

Grace Hopper

Hopper was sworn into the U.S. Navy Reserve in 1943 as a part of WAVES. There she worked with a team to program the Mark I computer under Howard H. Aiken. Together, Hopper and Aiken authored three papers on the Mark I. In 1949, she joined the team at Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation developing the UNIVAC I, where she recommended the use of an English language based programming language, termed compliers.

Three years later, Hopper published her first paper on the idea. She finished the complier work under the Remington Rand corporation. In 1954, she was named the company’s first director of automatic programming, where she worked on and released complier-based languages including MATH-MATIC and FLOW-MATIC. In 1959, Hopper worked as a consultant to the Conference on Data Systems Languages committee that defined the COBOL language, which extended Hopper’s FLOW-MATIC. From 1967-1977, she served as the director of the Navy Programming Languages Group, where she created the validation software for COBOL.

Sister Mary Kenneth Keller

Keller was one of the few people to understand that the world was experiencing the first information explosion, but that information was useless unless accessible by all. As she studied at Dartmouth, breaking the “men-only” rule, Keller made significant contributions to the development of the Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code (BASIC), which made it easier for individuals to use computers and find information.

Ada Lovelace

Lovelace was the first person to theorize that computers and technology could be used for so much more than number crunching. While translating an article by Luigi Menabrea on the engine, Lovelace left a series of elaborate notes that detail what many consider the first computer program – an algorithm designed to be run by a machine. In the notes, she questioned the strict ideology of computers as calculating, instead examining how technology as a collaboration tool could influence individuals and society as a whole.

Shirley A. Jackson

Jackson was the first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Her research has allowed for the creation of the portable fax, touch tone telephone, solar cells, fiber optic cables, caller ID and caller waiting. In 1995, Jackson was appointed as the Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) until becoming the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). She was the first woman and first African-American to hold both of those offices. In 2010, her contract with RPI was renewed for another 10 years.

These women have helped to shape the environment we currently enjoy, but are rarely recognized for their accomplishments. Even today, only one in four women with STEM degrees work in a STEM field. While this is beginning to change as more and more voices are calling for women in these fields and legislation is passed that encourages more diversity in STEM, we still have a ways to go. So today, make a point to encourage women and girls around you. Celebrate their victories and encourage them to pursue their dreams because, one day, they might inspire a generation like these 10 women have done.

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