Today is International Women’s Day. It’s not only a day to celebrate the achievements of inspiring women in history, but is also an important day that calls for gender equality in the modern world.
I’m no feminist, but having worked in the cloud computing industry for the best part of a year now, it’s pretty clear that the tech industry is still a very male-dominated field, and it’s lead me to question why that may be, and how we can turn it around.
Jean Jennings (left) and Frances Bilas set up the ENIAC in 1946. Bilas is arranging the program settings on the Master Programmer. Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania
Having grown up in a very tech-savvy household, my mum being an IT teacher, and my dad a computer programmer, my sister and I were always greatly interested in computers and technology. We loved playing computer games and took to using a computer like learning to write. I have a distinct memory of running downstairs in my favourite ‘Groovy Chick’ pyjamas one Christmas morning to find a badly wrapped PC, equipped with an accompanying deskjet printer sitting by the fireplace – a very high-tech gift from Father Christmas that year – one that left me and my sis absolutely buzzing with excitement.
I enjoyed most subjects at school and went on to to study Design at University. Following a very sudden reality check – i.e. finishing University, I landed a job in marketing, where I find myself now. Getting to know the product inside out in order to market it well goes without saying, but for me, gathering an insight into the cloud computing industry encouraged me to open my mind to the world of technology – and to question why women only hold around one in four of all STEM jobs worldwide, despite the fact that historically, it was actually women who pioneered computer programming to begin with.
Ada Lovelace – first ever female computer programmer.
Rewind to 1815, Ada Byron King (aka Ada Lovelace) was born. Ada was the daughter of the romantic poet Lord Byron, but is known today for being the first ever female computer programmer. After a gentle push from her mother to study mathematics and science, she found herself working as an inventor for Charles Babbage. It was working for Babbage where she created the concept of a computing operating system, and is widely acknowledge today for being the founder of scientific computing. Babbage’s machine was never built, but his designs and Lovelace’s notes were read by those responsible for building the first computer a century later.
Jean Jennings Bartik – programmer of the first all-electric digital computer.
Jean Jennings Bartik was one of the last surviving members of the group of women who programmed the Eniac, or Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, which is credited as the first all-electronic digital computer. The Eniac was designed to calculate the firing trajectories for artillery shells. It was completed in 1946, a little too late for use in World War II, but became a milestone in the evolution of modern computing.
Pioneering females of the future…
Today we see many women go on to secure high profile roles in huge corporate companies, but the overall ratio of men to women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths is still unbalanced. It may take time to ensure that women are given equal opportunities not only in technology, but in other fields, but it can also begin today by inspiring young women to venture into fields that might be a little out of their comfort zone.
Perhaps knowing more about the history of computing and the amazing achievements of women such as Lovelace will show a new generation of women that a career in computing can be for girls too.
The National Museum of Computing have a great section dedicated to Women in Technology, and also have a number of useful links on their website that will help you understand why more girls should get into the tech industry here, Girls in Computing. Last but by no means least, make sure to check out the Geek Gurl Diaries, a collection of video logs about using and making technology by Carrie Anne, a Computing & ICT Teacher flying the flag for female programmers and technology geeks!