Children are encouraged to follow their dreams and taught they can accomplish anything and everything when they grow up. The sky’s the limit for goals and aspirations. Yet, oftentimes young girls are only encouraged to seek out goals that apply to preconceived notions of gender, inadvertently limiting the scope of their potential. A little girl might be interested in the field of technology but never grow to pursue a career in it due to the belief that there is no real place for her in that world.
The following women broke down the barriers of gender and preconceived notions of what girls can and should achieve. They have each proved there is no wall a person can’t climb and no goal a person can’t reach. Fearless and inspirational, they’ve taught us that anyone can be anything they want to be when they grow up.
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Ada Lovelace (1815-1852)
This 19th-century English mathematician and daughter of famed poet Lord Byron was nicknamed the “princess of parallelograms.” In 1840, Lovelace was commissioned to translate notes on Charles Babbage’s “Analytical Engine,” which was the original concept for a programmable computer. Augmenting the translation with her own notes, she invented what is known as the first algorithm meant to be carried out by a machine, causing her to be considered the world’s first computer programmer.
Grace Hopper (1906-1992)
Often affectionately referred to as “Amazing Grace,” this American computer scientist is responsible for the invention of COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language), which was the first computer programming language. Hopper also created the term “debugging,” which refers to fixing computer glitches. Her creation of the term came about, charmingly enough, when she discovered and then removed an actual bug (a moth!) from the inside of her computer.
Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000)
This beautiful 1940s movie star is, perhaps, best known for her time on the silver screen, but some may be shocked to discover that she was also a brilliant scientific inventor. In 1940, Lamarr invented an electronic guiding system called “frequency hopping” meant to allow for American torpedoes to be launched without enemy signal interference during World War II. This invention would go on to help make current wireless technology (like cell phones) possible.
Margaret R. Fox (1916-2006)
An American electronics engineer and scientist, Fox worked as chief of the Office of Computer Information in the NBS Institute for Computer Science and Technology. Among the finest of her many professional accomplishments, she was the first secretary of AFIPS (the American Federation for Information Processing Societies).
Evelyn Boyd Granville (1924-)
A true trailblazer, Granville was one of the first African-American women to earn a PhD in mathematics, which she received from Yale in 1949. She then went on to successfully develop computer programs for the Mercury Project, which was the first U.S. manned mission to space, and the Apollo Project, which sent U.S. astronauts to the moon.
Jean Bartik (1924-2011)
While working for the Army Ordnance at Aberdeen Proving Ground, this brilliant mathematician was impressively selected to be part of the initial group of programmers for ENIAC, which was the world’s first electronic computer. Bartik also became an information technology editor for Auerbach Publishers, which was one of the earlier publishers of information on high technology.
Thelma Estrin (1924-2014)
Estrin, an American computer scientist and engineer, worked on WEIZAC, which was the first electronic computer in the Near East. A true pioneer in the world of technology, she was also the very first woman elected to the IEEE (Institute of Electronics and Electronic Engineers) Board of Directors.
Erna Schneider Hoover (1926-)
During her researching career at Bell Laboratories in the 1950s, this celebrated American mathematician invented a computerized telephone switching method to replace hard-wired and mechanical switching equipment. This achievement is exemplary and is said to have revolutionized modern communication. In 1971, her groundbreaking work and achievements allowed her to be awarded one of the very first patents ever issued.
Jean Sammet (1929-)
While managing the IBM Boston Programming Center in the 1960s, this American scientist developed FORMAC (Formula Manipulation Compiler), which would go on to become the first popular language used for working with non-numeric algebraic expressions. Sammet had many other achievements, including writing her 1969 book, “Programming Languages: History and Fundamentals,” which is considered an influential classic in the world of technology.
Barbara Liskov (1939-)
Now a celebrated computer scientist and professor at MIT, Liskov’s tech achievements go all the way back to 1968, when at Stanford University she was one of the first women to be awarded a doctorate degree from a computer science department.
Barbara Simons (1941-)
Simons is a prominent computer scientist who in 2005 was the first woman ever to receive the Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Engineering at UC Berkeley. She is also the co-founder of the Re-Entry Program for Women and Minorities in Berkeley’s Computer Science Department.
Anita Borg (1949-2003)
Struck by how few women were involved in tech and computing in the late 1980s, this American computer scientist famously created Systers, an email list of mentors that provides information and support for women in computing. Borg was also the founding director of the Institute for Women and Technology, which sought to widen the representation of women in technical fields. The institute was later renamed the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology in her honor.
Radia Perlman (1951-)
This software designer and tech engineer famously invented the “spanning-tree protocol,” a function that prevents bridge loops in ethernet local area networks. Aside from this staggering accomplishment, she has also contributed significantly to other areas of network design and standardization, which has led many to refer to her as the “Mother of the Internet.”
Shafrira Goldwasser (1958-)
This American-born Israeli computer scientist is a prominent professor of electrical engineering at MIT. She is also the co-inventor of zero-knowledge proofs, which are an essential tool in the design of cryptographic protocols. She has won the Godel Prize in theoretical science twice: once in 1993 and again in 2001.
Ellen Ochoa (1958-)
This former astronaut and trailblazer of spacecraft technology has developed significant computer systems for use in NASA’s aeronautical expeditions. Among her many achievements, she was also the first Hispanic woman to ever go to space when, in 1993, she boarded the Discovery Space Shuttle and served on a nine-day mission to study the Earth’s ozone layer.