When the development of coding first started taking off in the 20th century, women were at the forefront of its progress. According to an article in Smithsonian Magazine, women were historically offered coding jobs because these positions were seen as easy “women’s work,” similar to secretarial and administrative duties, while men were more focused on the development of hardware. Here are a few women who helped spearhead the development of this all-important skill:
Ada Lovelace (1815-1852)
Ada’s place in coding takes place earlier than the 20th century, but her work is foundational to this field. Growing up, Ada was always interested in the inventions coming about during the Industrial Revolution. At age seventeen, Ada’s mentor (Charles Babbage) developed a machine called the “Analytical Engine.”
At one point, she translated an article that an Italian mathematician wrote about the machine. Babbage was impressed and asked her to expand on the article. In her work, she wrote on the potential uses of the Analytical Engine and wrote multiple computer programs.
Lois Haibt (1934-)
When Haibt began working for IBM, they were working on a computer language that would change the field completely. Haibt was a great problem-solver and had shown exceptional skills in math and science during her collegiate studies. The project she was hired for became known as FORTRAN and she eventually was assigned to build the flow analysis at the foundation of the FORTRAN computer. The language became known as a vital development in the field of computer coding and programming.
Margaret Hamilton (1936-)
Hamilton was working as a programmer at MIT during the 1960s. She is quoted as saying: “The very first languages I programmed were in hexadecimal and binary. There was no school to attend or field to learn what today is known as ‘software engineering’ or ‘systems engineering.’ When answers could not be found, we had to invent them.”
When NASA looked to MIT workers to help engineer the Apollo, Margaret’s duties involved developing onboard flight software. Her method involved punching holes in stacks of punch cards and having them processed by a large computer, simulating the Apollo. After a human error, Hamilton helped save the Apollo 8 flight and was awarded the NASA’s Exceptional Space Act Award.
Over the years, it has been made clear that computer coding and programming is much more than mundane and tedious work. It’s a skill that is vital to the technological development of our world, and women have played no small part in it. Apart from their scientific success, they also paved the way for the many women who do great work in this field today.