When the topic of technology leaders and pioneers comes up, the first names that come to mind are likely Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. While their contributions are undeniable, they are far from the only names worthy of being celebrated.
In honor of International Women’s Day, here are ten amazing women who have helped to shape technology as we know it:
Susan Kare – Kare’s work with user interfaces helped to bring the first Apple computer to life. Her skills in typography and graphic design are responsible for many aspects of the Mac interface still being used today, including the command icon. She was also behind the Happy Mac icon that greeted users during boot up, and the trash can icon. Her work played an important part in Job’s efforts to make the personal computer more personable.After Job’s was forced out of Apple in the mid-1980s, Kare moved on to Microsoft, where she worked on the Windows 3.0 operating system. She has since done work for Facebook, helping to create some of their “digital gifts”, including the rubber ducky, and was the co-founder and executive director of Glam Media. Today, she owns kare.com, a digital design firm in San Francisco, and sells prints of her designs on kareprints.com.
Hedy Lamarr – While best known for her work in film in the 1920s, Hedy Lamarr was so much more than just a pretty face. She helped to invent spread-spectrum technology by coming up with the concept of frequency hopping – sending radio signals from different frequency channels. Along with her co-inventor George Antheil, Lamarr originally intended for the Navy to use this technology to control torpedoes. The randomized channel switching would make it difficult for outsiders to understand their communications, essentially making frequency hopping the first encryption technology.The Navy eventually passed on the technology, which was patented on August 11, 1942. The technology was picked up by engineers at Sylvania Electronic Systems Division in the 1950s, leading to the use of Lamarr’s technology in military communications. Her work helped create modern wireless technologies such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA). Lamarr received long overdue recognition for her work in 1997, when she was honored with the Pioneer Award by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, just a few years before her death in 2000.
Grace Hopper – Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper is known to many as the Queen of Software, or as Grandma COBOL. Hopper invented some of the earliest English-language programming languages and is most closely associated with Common Business-Oriented Language (COBOL), which was based off of the FLOW-MATIC language she invented in 1958. Hopper thought that if programming was created in a language that was easier for people to understand, there would be more computer programmers. Today, COBOL is still widely used to build new business applications.
Ada Lovelace – Lovelace is responsible for authoring the world’s first computer algorithm, despite the fact that computers didn’t yet exist. In 1843, Lovelace worked with Charles Babbage on the Analytical Engine, a never-to-be-realized computer. Lovelace completed a French-to-English translation of the work of Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea, adding extensive notes of her own, which included her algorithm.Lovelace saw more potential in the Analytical Engine than Babbage did, believing it could be capable of much more complex equations. Lovelace died of uterine cancer in 1852 at the age of 36. Her work went underreported for many years, but today she is celebrated on Ada Lovelace Day each year, and is memorialized by the object-oriented programming language called, of course, Ada.
Mary Lou Jepsen – Jepsen co-founded and served as the chief technology officer of MicroDisplay in 1995, working on creating smaller display screens. From there, she went on to run the display division at Intel before leaving to co-found One Laptop Per Child. The goal of this nonprofit organization was to provide children worldwide with affordable, green notebook computers. There, Jepsen produced the XO, one of the lowest-power, lowest-cost notebooks ever made.Jepsen left OLPC in 2008 to start Pixel Qi, leveraging the technological advancements she made with the XO to create more economical end user devices. Current units use 10 times less power consumption for their displays than the XO notebooks, and Jepsen hopes to bring that number down even further. Her end goal is to make use of solar cell technology to eliminate the need for batteries and power adapters in laptops, cell phones, and medical devices.
Roberta Williams – Adventure gaming doesn’t enjoy the popularity it once did, but there was a time when PC games like King’s Quest were all any geek could talk about. King’s Quest creator Roberta Williams was a pioneer of the PC gaming industry, founding Sierra On-Line (later to be renamed Sierra Entertainment) with her husband Ken Williams. The pair helped shape the history of video games with their complex puzzles and detailed storylines.Williams retired from game development in 1999, having spent 20 years developing games for the original IBM PCjr, the Tandy 1000, the Amiga, the Apple II and the Sega Master System, to name a few.
Radia Pearlman – Pearlman’s work as a network engineer led her to develop the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP), which made it possible to build massive networks using Ethernet by creating a mesh network of layer-2 bridges and then disabling the links that aren’t part of the “tree”. This innovation had a massive impact on network switches, earning Pearlman the nickname of Mother of the Internet.Currently working as an Intel fellow, Pearlman is helping the company to improve their network and security technologies. She recently developed the new TRansparent Interconnection of Lots of Links (TRILL), which sets a new standard for data center connectivity, and could replace STP.
Dr. Erna Hoover – We have Hoover to thank for a major reduction in dropped calls and busy signals. Patented in 1971, Hoover developed a telephony switching computer program while working at Bell Laboratories. The program allowed phones to keep functioning under high call volumes, preventing it from hanging up on itself.Now 86 years old, Hoover is retired. She was inducted into the National Inventers Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio in 2008.
Marissa Mayer – Having been one of the very first employees to join Google back in 1999 when the search engine giant was still just a startup, Mayer currently serves as VP of location and location services. She leads project management and engineering for a range of search products, including Google Maps, Local Search, Google Earth, Street View, and Latitude.Mayer’s skills in user interface design and product vision have helped to keep Google at the head of the pack. At 36 years old, Mayer is the youngest member of Google’s executive operating committee, and a vocal advocate for women in technology.
Barbara Liskov – Liskov was one of the first women to earn a computer science Ph.D, and is the inventor of CLU, a programming language that helped lay the groundwork for object-oriented programming. She is also responsible for Argus, an extension of CLU that supports distributed programs, and Thor, an object-oriented database system. Her work has had a major influence on modern OOP-based languages and operating systems, such as Mac OS X, Objective-C, Visual Basic.NET and Java.Today, the now 72 year old Professor Liskov continues her research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She received the A.M. Turing Award, the “Nobel Prize of computing” in 2008 from the Association for Computing Machinery. She was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for her contributions to programming languages and system design in 2012.
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