When people remember the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, they see iconic images of the rock & roll and hippie era. They think of a time when the King was serenading a million women, Beatlemania had gripped the planet and the Unholy Trinity of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple had teenagers screaming in ecstasy and their parents screaming in agony.
But in quieter lanes, a silent revolution was taking place – the computer age was starting. And it was led not just by middle-aged men with white shirts and multiple coloured pens but by women scientists and programmers as well. Young girls, working mothers, fresh graduates, just-married and in-love and in all their multitude of roles – women. Some stood out for their exceptional contributions to the field of computing and deserve to become household names like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.
1. Lady Ada Lovelace
Born to Lord Bryson in 1816, Augusta Ada King lived only till the age of 36. But even in her short time, she managed to collaborate with Charles Babbage on a pre-computer computer and became widely recognized as the first programmer. She was the first to recognize that computers would and should become more than glorified calculators, that they should do more than crunch numbers. This came to be known as Lovelace’s Leap, a thought so advanced that a century later it ushered in the information age.
2. Margaret Hamilton
Margaret Hamilton is credited with creating the field of software engineering and the industry of software systems. But more importantly, she led the project that created the flight software for the Apollo Space Program. Man landing on the moon in 1969 is in no small part the achievement of the technology that got the astronauts to it.
3. Grace Hopper
An officer in the United States Navy, Grace Hopper, is widely remembered for the invention of ‘debugging’ in 1947, which literally meant removing a moth from the computer. The term in now popular as removing defects from software. A quick witted and energetic lady, her contributions to computing can only be understated. She worked on the creation of COBOL which was the de-facto language of enterprise systems before Java came along and spoiled that party.
4. Fran Allen
The first woman to win the Nobel of Computing, the Turing Award in 2006, Frances Allen is one of the most recognized IBM employees. She joined the Big Blue in 1957 to pay off her student loans but ended up staying there for 45 years. Her most notable work was in the field of compiler optimization which is another way of saying her lifelong goal has been to make software run faster. She even worked on the IBM Harvest machines, one of the earliest computers used by the National Security Agency (NSA) for breaking encrypted data back in the ’60s and ’70s.
5. Barbara Liskov
Another Turing Award laureate , Barbara Liskov was one of the first women in the United States to be awarded a Ph.D in Computer Science in 1968. She gave us the Liskov Substitution Principle, which eases complex software creation. She has also done seminal work in distributed computing, the field which enabled the tech giants of today, like Google, to come into being.
6. Adele Goldberg
A researcher in the famous Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), she was a part of the super team that gave us concepts like Graphical User Interfaces and tablet computers. She famously refused Steve Jobs to see PARC’s technology fearing that he would copy it, and for good reason. Years before Apple made the Macintosh OS, the PARC team created Alto, the first computer to have a friendly user interface. Xerox did not understand the work being done at PARC and told Goldberg to demo all their work to Jobs. The rest, as they say, is history.