Celebrating Women in Computing–Past, Present and Future

The Importance of Women in Computer History

Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

Women have been widely recognized as being important in the history of computer programming. Two examples of women technical pioneers are:

  • Ada Lovelace (1815 to 1852), who was believed to be the first computer programmer.
  • Grace Hopper (1906 to 1992), who was a computer programmer that helped pave the way for the COBOL programming language by developing a compiler, which translated mathematical code into machine-readable code.

Image of Grace Hopper courtesy of Pixabay

Canadian Celebration of Women in Computing

Women continue to celebrate their place in technology. Last year was the fourth annual CAN-CWIC (Canadian Celebration of Women in Computing) conference, which took place in the International Center in Mississauga, Ontario on November 8th and 9th 2019. There were 20+ sessions for 700+ attendees and 40+. Sessions included such topics as social media branding, technologies for people with disabilities, cybersecurity, gaming and others.

Image  courtesy of Pixabay

Some Stats on Women in Technology

Some promising stats compiled on women in technology for 2018.

  • 29% of all Apple leaders were women.
  • The percentage of Facebook’s women in tech had increased to 22%.
  • Facebook’s female employees reached 36%.
  • Women formed 9% of Google’s employees.
  • 5% of Google’s leaders on a global scale were female.
  • 5% of Google’s newly hired tech-position employees were women.
Canadian Contribution to the Future of Women in Computing

Image courtesy of Pixabay

To invest in the future of Women in Technology, the Canadian Government has launched a $2 billion Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES) to double the number of women-owned businesses in Canada by 2025 by increasing access to finance, networks, and advice. As a part of WES, there is a $20 million Women Entrepreneurship Fund which funds women-led companies. Also, involved in the WES initiative is a $200 million Women in Technology (WIT) venture fund that supports women in building their businesses.

Why are Women in Technology Unsung?

What would you consider to be one of the biggest hurdles of being a woman in technology?

Jean E. Sammet–One Woman Programmer’s Lifelong Success Story

Photo of Jean E. Sammet Courtesy of Adobe Stock

Computer Programming is now considered to be a male-dominated field. However, early in the history of computers, there were several women involved in developing the original languages.

One of these accomplished women was Jean E. Sammet, born March 23, 1928 in New York, New York. According to the history of computers, she was a member of the CODASYL COBOL committee, from 1960 until 1964; chairman of the Short Range Subcommittee, which developed all the statements of COBOL language; originator and developer of FORMAC, one of the earliest formula manipulation languages; leader in language systematization and historian of computer languages.

Jean’s book, Programming Languages: History and Fundamentals (shown below), Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ., 1969, contains a description of the histories of many languages, along with technical information.

Book Photo Courtesy of Amazon

When Jean Sammet passed away on May 20, 2017,  her obituary quoted her as saying in a 2000 interview, “I thought of a computer as some obscene piece of hardware that I wanted nothing to do with.”

However, she also indicated that, in the late 1950’s, jobs as computer programmers were easy to get. In fact, Jean told an interviewer for Glamour Magazine that “At that point — and this is my opinion; I know other people my age don’t agree — there was relatively little discrimination against women, because programmers were very scarce. And so it didn’t matter whether you had three heads.”

Despite the acceptance of women in the programming field at the time, according to the Memorandum written on her death by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), when Jean decided in 1958 to leave her job to work for a company with computers as its focus, she found there were no relevant classified ads for such jobs for women: the classifieds at the time were segmented by gender. She applied to ads for men instead, and she was hired by Sylvania to oversee software development for the U.S. Army’s Mobile Digital Computer (MOBIDIC).

An article of the top 10 women in Tech reported that it was programming calculations onto cardboard punched cards, fed into a computer, that first made Jean love computing. As a result, she joined IBM in 1961, where she worked until she officially retired in 1988. Grace Hopper is often called the “mother of COBOL,” but Jean Sammet was one of the six people who actually designed the language.

Photo of Punch Cards Courtesy of Adobe Stock

The ACM also indicated that, in 1977, she organized the first History of Computing Committee for the American Federation of Information Processing Societies (AFIPS), and served as its chairperson. In addition to encouraging the creation of archives for materials, the committee publicized the importance of industry professionals’ saving materials.

Jean commented on her own experience with saving papers:  “From childhood on, I hated to throw papers away. As I became an adult, this characteristic merged with my interest in computing history. As a result, I created important files and documents of my own, and became concerned with having other people publish material on their important work so the facts (rather that the myths) would be known publicly.”

As a result of her long and successful history as a woman in technology, Jean Sammet serves as an inspiration to the next generation to continue her work in documenting and sharing technical information.

 

If you’re a member of the IT community, think about how the environment looks today. Do you find discrimination in the IT world? Are there some people who still think of computers as a negative? Can you think of any current famous female role models in technology?