Women in technology is certainly a hot topic. Discussion rages on around the fact that significantly fewer women than men are pursuing an education and career in the field of software engineering.
You may have seen the letter a Google engineer wrote about the subject. I’m not going to get into a debate here, but the news did get me thinking about the women who have made major contributions to the software industry.
I decided to take the time to do some research to learn more about the women who have made huge contributions throughout the history of programming, as well as those who are doing great work in the software engineering industry today. Some you may know, some you may not. All have made contributions that have changed the field of software engineering in a major way.
Grace Hopper could certainly be considered the most influential woman in the early days of computers and software engineering.
She began her computing career working on the Harvard Mark 1 computer team led by Howard Aiken, but her biggest contribution was creating a program that turns human-readable statements (code) into machine language that a computer can understand.
Any high-level programming language, such as C++, C#, or Java, uses a compiler to do this transformation. If you have programmed, you have definitely used a compiler.
Grace Hopper had a revolutionary belief: you could write code in a language using English words and these statements could be translated into machine language by a compiler. Despite others claiming this type of action was not possible, the first compiler was completed by Hopper in 1952.
Hopper didn’t stop there, however. In 1959, she attended the Conference on Data System Languages (CODASYL). This conference led to the creation of COBOL.
COBOL was the realization of a language written with English words that Hopper worked so hard to champion. In fact, it is still in wide use today. Check out the impressive stats here.
Grace Hopper created one of the first compilers and helped to create a language that is still in use over 50 years after its creation. That is a pretty big mark to leave on the engineering community.
Jessica McKellar is a name you should know if you are a Python developer or a contributor to open source.
McKellar is a major contributor to the Python language and community. She is a director of the Python Software Foundation and won the O’Reilly Open Source Award for her contributions to Python. She is also a contributor to Twisted, a Python networking framework.
And if that is not enough to convince you of McKellar’s talent, she is part of three successful startups. She started as a developer for Ksplice (which was acquired by Oracle in 2011) and became an engineering manager there.
McKellar also contributed to the Linux kernel and is currently writing a book entitled Linux Device Drivers, 4th Edition for O’Reilly.
McKellar mentors other programmers through Google Summer of Code, GNOME Outreach for Women, and Hacker School. She also founded the world’s largest Python user group. If you’re a Python developer, get to know Jessica McKellar.
Saron Yitbarek didn’t start out a coder, but has had a significant impact since she transitioned into one. After stints in a software consultancy and at Microsoft, she founded CodeNewbie, an ultra-supportive community of new and experienced software engineers with the mission of helping each other. The creation of this network is so far her biggest contribution to the computing community.
With what started as a weekly TwitterChat, Yitbarek’s network to help connect people new to coding has now grown to a great website with blog posts, podcasts, resources for newbie coders, a discussion board, and local meetups in five cities (Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, DC, and Philadelphia).
And the weekly TwitterChat is still going. Every Wednesday a question is posed and developers can respond with #CodeNewbies. For those of you new to programming, give CodeNewbie a look to see if it can help make you a more confident and competent developer.
Don’t Forget the Women in Software Engineering
This is far from an exhaustive list of all women who have made a significant impact in software engineering — there are many more known and unknown figures who have made important contributions.
Kimberly Bryant started Black Girls Code. If you use OAuth, Leah Culver helped to write the API specification and a Python implementation. Anna Patterson leads Google’s AI and Machine Learning efforts. Emily Ratliff is a senior director of security for the Linux Foundation. These are just a few figures making an impact: find out about more women in engineering today from this Business Insider article.
One way to help encourage women to pursue education and careers in software engineering is to bring more attention to the accomplishments of the women who paved the way for all programmers and who are doing the work today. Highlighting women working in programming can help students choose to pursue a software engineering education by showing them someone who is like them working in the field.
Women paved the way for the software engineering industry we know today and are continuing to push it forward. I’d encourage you to learn more about these pioneers in our industry.
Written by: Justin Boyer