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A gendered history of technology
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A gendered history of technology

Read this article to discover a list of women and non binary people who have made an important contribution to the technology industry.
© Creative Computing Institute

Throughout history, women and trans people have played an important role in the creation of new technologies. These histories are often hidden under stories that centre on the men who dominate the tech industry.

In an attempt to counteract these narratives we’d like to share some histories with you that flip the script.

Ada Lovelace

a headshot of Ada Lovelace Ada Lovelace was an English mathematician born in 1815. She is widely considered to be the world’s first computer programmer, most notably for her work on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine.

She recognised the machine had applications beyond simple calculation and published the first algorithm to be carried out by such machines.

the second world war, Lovelace’s notes on the Analytical Engine were used as inspiration by Alan Turing when building the first modern computer, created to crack the Enigma Code, a way of encrypting messages used by the German army (1).

Annie Easley

a headshot of Annie Easley Annie Easley was an African-American computer programmer who began her career at NASA in 1955. She was responsible for developing code for energy-conversion systems which would go on to be used in early hybrid vehicles, as well as the NASA space programme.

Her contributions to the space programme lay the groundwork for future missions into space. Later in her career, she became the Equal Employment Opportunity Counselor for NASA, helping to address issues of gender, race and age discrimination at the company (2).

Hedy Lamarr

a headshot of Hedy Lamarr Hedy Lamarr was an American inventor, actress, and film producer. At the beginning of World War II, Lamar helped develop a radio guidance system using frequency-hopping spread spectrum technology.

This technology would go on to be incorporated into Bluetooth, GPS and early Wifi systems. Lamarr was not publicly recognised for her work during her lifetime but was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.

Neither Lamar nor her estate has ever received any financial compensation for the multi-million dollar industry her inventions paved the way for (3).

Rajeshwari Chatterjee

a headshot of Rajeshwari Chatterjee Rajeshwari Chatterjee was an Indian scientist and academic and the first female engineer from Karnataka, a state in the South-Western region of India.

Following the completion of her PhD and subsequent teaching at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, she helped to set up a microwave research laboratory, which led to the first research of its kind to be conducted in India.

Following her retirement from academia, she spent her time on socially engaged work, including efforts for the Indian Association for Women’s Studies (4).

Kimberly Bryant

a headshot of Kimberly Bryant Kimberly Bryant is an African-American electrical engineer working in biotechnology. In 2011 Bryant founded Black Girls Code, an organisation that teaches computer programming to young African-American women in after-school and summer programmes.

She has stated the goal of the organisation is to teach one million Black women to code by 2040. In 2013, Bryant was recognized as a White House Champion of Change for Tech Inclusion.

In the same year, she was also voted as one of the 25 Most Influential African-Americans in Technology (5).

Lynn Conway

a headshot of Lynn Conway Lynn Conway is an American computer scientist, electrical engineer, inventor and transgender activist. In the 1960’s she was responsible for the invention of complex microchip systems that lead to the creation of the first supercomputers.

Her invention would go on to be a part of most high-end computing systems at the end of the 20th century. Conway was never credited for her work and was fired from IBM in 1968 for being open about her decision to transition (6).

IBM eventually apologised in 2020, hosting an event in her honour and awarding her the IBM Lifetime Achievement Award (7).

Kalpana Chawla

a headshot of Kalpana Chawla Kalpana Chawla was an Indian-American astronaut and engineer and the first Indian woman to go to space, first flying on the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997.

In 2003 she was one of the seven crew members who tragically lost their lives in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

She is regarded as a national hero in India with places such as the Kalpana Chawla Planetarium in Haryana named after her. In 2004 she was posthumously honoured with the Congressional Space Medal of Honour (8).

Audrey Tang

a headshot of Audrey Tang Audrey Tang is a Taiwanese software programmer. In 2016 she was invited to become the Digital Minister of Taiwan, becoming the first trans and non-binary official in the country’s executive cabinet.

She is known for her work revitalising the computer languages Perl and Haskell and building the online spreadsheet system EtherCalc, an open-source alternative to Google sheets.

In 2020 she was instrumental to the country’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, emboldening citizens to develop apps to map mask availability and combat disinformation with online campaigns (9).

References:

  1. Sarah Baldwin, 2018. Ada Lovelace and the Analytical Engine, Bodleian Libraries blogs.
  2. Annie Easley, Computer Scientist, NASA.
  3. Shivaune Field, 2018. Hedy Lamarr: The incredible mind behind secure WiFi, GPS And Bluetooth, Forbes.
  4. Monit Khanna, 2020. Karnataka’s 1st female engineer, Rajeshwari Chatterjee dedicated her life to science, India Times.
  5. Marissa Lang, 2017. Kimberly Bryant, Black Girls Code founder, opens doors in tech, San Francisco Chronicle.
  6. Lynn’s story, University of Michigan.
  7. Maria Cramer, 2020. 52 Years Later, IBM apologizes for firing transgender woman, New York Times.
  8. Kalpana Chawla, Astronaut, Nasa.
  9. Audrey Tang, 2020. How digital innovation can fight pandemics and strengthen democracy, TED.
© Creative Computing Institute
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