Did you know?
At one time, coding was considered a female job. Men did the machine building, and women programmed them, girl power!
Dating back to the 1870s, the invention of the typewriter developed a demand for female office workers. It turns out, men couldn’t match the speed that women were able to type. In the coming years, mathematically trained women took up computer roles.
Computer programming was once considered unimportant, and men were much more interested in building hardware, and mechanics. Within this office environment, of males building hardware, and women in computer-based roles, the first-ever computer program was developed.. By a female!
Meet the women who paved the way in computer programming…
Ada Lovelace was an English mathematician, born in 1815 and the world’s first computer programmer. Inventing the computer algorithm, daughter of a mathematician, Anna Isabella Milbanke, and poet Lord Byron, Ada saw mathematics to be ‘poetical science.’ Lovelace gained a mathematical scholarship where Charles Babbage named her the ‘Enchantress of Numbers’. Where Charles had previously developed an earlier version of a computer, Ada then went on to develop his idea with the first computer program algorithm. Lovelace also developed the idea that computers can go beyond simple calculations, using them as a collaborative tool.
Originally, computer programs were written in machine code. Kathleen Booth created something called the Assembly Language in 1950 which created an easier way to code, taking the machine instructions from a series of ones and zeros to mnemonic form (a system such as a pattern of letters, ideas, or associations which assists in remembering something). The Assembler would translate this into a machine code. Kathleen was married to a man named Andrew Booth, where they both worked on the same team at Birkbeck College in the UK. Andrew designed the computers and Kathleen programmed them. As part of their time at Birkbeck, between them, they created the APEC (All Purpose Electronic Computer), the ARC (Automatic Relay Computer), and the SEC (Simple Electronic Computer).
Katerina Yushchenko was a member of the group operating the first programmable computer in the Soviet Union and European region. This was known as MESM. Created by the Soviets in 1950 in the Kyiv Institute of Mathematics of the Ukrainian Academy of Science. Yushchenko developed the Address programming language around 1955, one of the first high-level programming languages to be developed. The new Address Programming Language meant there was a free location of a program in computer memory provided, unlike the older programs that used direct memory addresses.
Ida was born in Ukraine and was just 13 when she relocated to the United States with her parents. Rhodes attended Cornell and Columbia University, studying mathematics. Whilst working in the MDL in Washington (Mathematics Machine Development Laboratory), Idea developed the C-10 programming language alongside Betty Holberton in the early 1950s. C-10 was used to program one of the first commercial computers used by the US Census Bureau (the UNIVAC). This was part of the original programming for the Social Security Administration. In her later years, Rhodes taught programming to help deaf, mute, and blind students learn to code.
Grace Hopper, born in 1906, developed the compiler and the COBOL programming language. Hopper created the first compiler in 1952 which was known as A-o. This converted English language type instructions into machine code. Additionally, alongside colleagues, Grace Hopper developed the programming language COBOL, which is still in use today. Common Business Oriented Language was created with the US government and business for a data programming language that could run on different computers, more specifically by non-technical individuals. Grace was also a mathematics professor and considered by many “the first lady of software”, by pushing the boundaries of computer programming, Hopper developed the building blocks for today’s user-friendly personal computers.
Jean found gaining employment within the mathematics and programming industry challenging, facing setbacks in the 1950s. Sammet completed her MA in Mathematics and was unable to gain her desired role in teaching, which led her into computer programming. In her earlier years, she worked on analogue computers, leading to the development of programming the early digital computers which were said to take days to code.
Interestingly, Jean worked alongside Grace Hopper in developing COBOL and developed the programming language FORmula MAnipulation Complier - FORMAC in 1962 as part of her time with IBM. FORMAC had the ability to perform algebraic manipulations.
Finally, in 1967, Sammet published a book named Programming Languages: History and Fundamentals. Finishing her career by her involvement in developing the Ada language in the 1970s.
Cynthia Soloman developed the Logo Programming Language alongside Wally Feurzeig, while working at Bolt, Beranek and Newman. In 1967, a working version of Logo was introduced and implemented in Lisp on a time-shared SDS 940 computer. The Logo computer language was designed to provide early and easy entry routes into programming for children with little mathematical knowledge. Logo influenced the creation and development of Smalltalk and Scratch.
Today, we celebrate women across the globe, introducing you to these 7 fantastic women who paved the way in computer programming.