Inspiring Women in Computing

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Inspiring Women in Computing

Post by kim » Tue Jul 03, 2018 7:17 am

Why when we talk about women in computer science do we often only mention Ava Lovelace or Grace Hopper? Both amazing, but there are so many inspirational women in computer science. These are some of the women that have inspired me.
I've always found the story of the ENIAC Six hugely inspirational. Jean Bartik, Betty Holberton, Kathleen Antonelli, Marlyn Meltzer, Frances Spence, and Ruth Teitelbaum are names that every computer scientist should know off by heart. They are the pioneers of software!!Think for a second how amazing this is. They devised methods and paradigms to write complex software without any guidance. They worked out how to write programmes with nothing but wiring diagrams to work with! It's mind blowing!

Margaret Hamilton coined the term "software engineering" while working on Apollo. Computer Scientists... think of how often you use the term "Software Engineering" every day!
While that in itself is an interesting historical factoid, her work is amazingly impressive. She lead the team that developed the on-board flight and navigation software that put people in space!
What about Karen Spärck Jones? Her work on Information Retrieval (IR) makes many of the search engine technologies we take for granted possible. It enabled users to work with computers using everyday words and terms.

Erna Hoover was awarded one of the first patents ever issued for a software invention. The technology she invented enabled telecoms switching to move from electronic to computer-based systems. The tech is still used in industry today.

Mary Keller was the first woman to earn a PhD in computer science in the U.S. She worked on the BASIC programming language at Dartmouth (at the time a male-only college). She was one of the first advocates of computers in education (she was also a catholic sister).
Adele Goldberg worked in the team that developed some of the early programming concepts that became the basis for graphically based user interfaces (GUIs). She also served as president of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) between 1984 and 1986.
Kathleen Booth wrote the first assembly language! She also co-founded the School of Computer Science and Information Systems at Birkbeck, and she conducted some of the early research into using Neural Networks to simulate how animals recognise patterns.developed Kismet during her PhD... this is a go-to for a AI lectures, and almost every CS student will have seen this work. She is a pioneer in social robotics, and her book was a huge inspiration during my PhD.

Jean Sammet was one of the developers of the COBOL language, she was also the first female president of the ACM.Ludmila Kuncheva is a professor of Computer Science at Bangor and is one of the most inspiring people I have ever worked with. She was also the internal examiner of my PhD and gave me some of the best professional advice I have ever received.

Her work on pattern recognition is amazing, and she has written a number of books. I always recommend her math book as one of the best introductory texts for computer scientists .Her Saving Bletchly Park campaign helped to preserve one of the most important sites in computer science history... Everyone interested in computing should all read her book! but she has done so much more.

I would argue that the TechMums initiative is one of the most forward thinking ways of challenging technological inequality. Please listen to her desert island disks interview, its great :-)
This isn't by any means an exhaustive list, but these are some of the women in computer science that have inspired me over the years. I'm also grateful for the many female colleagues I have had over the years who have pushed me forward, inspired me, & mentored me along the way
Put simply, I wish that it was possible to write a blog long enough to mention every one. But that isn't really the point.... CS suffers from a huge gender bias at the HE level, and I wonder what impact role models play in this.When I studied computing at ALevel I was only ever taught about male programmers. Ava Lovelace was mentioned as a passing historical reference (once). But, at that age it was hard for me to get my head around.

I'm not (by any means) discounting the impact of Lovelace... but it was hard for me at 16 to really understand how someone could be influential in computing before a computer had been invented. For this reason, the historical footnote I was presented with lacked context.
... to be honest, I felt the same about Babbage. It all seemed to hypothetical to inspire my more juvenile self. However, I would have been excited to learn anything about Bartik or Breazeal, or any of the other women on this list.

My point is that, different figures will inspire different people for different reasons. To keep pulling out the same examples seems like a strategy that is doomed to fail. And as a field we need to do a better job of referencing the wide impact women in CS.
Because, frankly, some of our greatest innovations in computer science have been brought forth by women.... and their stories need to be told better, and more often because they are are a core part of our history and inspirational to everyone.

thanks for reading,and find me on twitter at

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