Women have always been part of the important landmarks in the history of science and technology. It’s another thing entirely that the world hasn’t been that quick to recognize that fact. While this list doesn’t even come close to making a comprehensive picture of tech and science women, it’s well worth remembering a few of the most important names.
Here are 10 of the most influential women in tech and science, in no particular order:
Grace Hopper (1906-1992)
A United States Navy rear admiral, Hopper was a pioneer of computer programming. She was one of the first programmers of the Hardvard Mark I computer used in the last phase of the war effort for WWII. Most notably, she popularized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which she believed should be easily understood by people. This eventually led to the development of COBOL, an early high-level programming language still in use today and one of the first programming languages in general.
Ada Lovelace (1815-1852)
It’s impossible to write one of these lists and not mention Ada Lovelace. An English mathematician and writer, she was the first person to recognize that computers had other uses beyond pure calculation. She published the first algorithm intended for that kind of machine, and for that, she is often regarded as the first computer programmer. While that fact is still debated to this day, her legacy is definitely not.
Radia Perlman (1951-)
Born in Virginia, Radia Perlman is often called “the mother of the internet”, though she dislikes the nickname. In any case, the truth is that she invented the spanning-tree protocol (STP), which is essential to the operation of network bridges and the ethernet (that thing better known today as LAN connections).
The ENIAC Programmers
ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) was one of the first electronic general-purpose computers ever made. The first programmers for the machine were all women: Kay McNulty, Betty Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Meltzer, Fran Bilas, and Ruth Lichterman. However, their work was not recognized for over 50 years, as historians had mistaken them for models posing beside the machine in the old photographs.
They weren’t invited to the 50th anniversary event, and most of them didn’t get any recognition in their lifetimes. But their legacy lives on, and is more important than ever to remember this influential group of women.
Carol Shaw (1955-)
American Carol Shaw is notable for being one of the very first female designers in the videogame industry. As a software engineer working at Atari (alongside others like Carla Meninsky), she developed 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe. Later, working for Activision, she programmed her best-known title, River Raid. In 2017, she won the Industry Icon Award at The Game Awards for her influence in the industry.
Marie Curie (1867-1934)
Curie was a Polish (later naturalized French) physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity, a term that she coined. She’s also notable for being the first woman to win a Nobel prize for her work, as well as the first person to win two prizes and still the only woman to do so to this day.
Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)
Born to a prominent Biritish Jewish family, Rosalind Franklin is best known for her contributions on the X-ray diffraction images of DNA, which helped to better understand its molecular structure. Although she was best known in life for her works on coal and viruses, her contributions to the discovery of the structure of DNA weren’t recognized until after her young death at 37.
Lise Meitner (1878-1968)
Originally from Austria, Lise Meitner worked most of her career in Berlin before fleeing Nazi Germany to Sweden, where she received citizenship. She, alongside Otto Hahn, led the small group of scientists who first discovered nuclear fission of uranium, which led to the use of nuclear energy. She received awards and honors throughout her life, except the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her discovery. Instead, the award was given solely to her partner Otto Hahn, a fact many pointed out as unjust in the coming decades.
Sheryl Sandberg (1969-)
In a more modern setting, influential women in tech can take the shape of an executive, not necessarily a programmer. That’s the case with Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. She’s considered to be one of the most powerful women in the world thanks to the fact that she’s the second in command at a company with a market cap of US$ 516 billion. During some of Facebook’s more controversial times, she’s the one pushing for more transparency.
Susan Wojcicki (1968-)
In the same month that Google was incorporated, its founders set up office in Susan Wojcicki’s garage. Many years later, she has been increasingly outspoken about the need for gender diversity in the tech industry. It’s a good thing that she’s now the head of YouTube, the most watched video platform on the internet. Since taking command in 2014, she has increased the number of female employees from 24% to 30%, and she doesn’t seem to want to stop there.