Women Pioneers Shaping The Tech World Now & Then
“One of the biggest barriers girls face is having a lack of women in tech to look up to – and that’s not because they don’t exist. It’s because they aren’t getting the attention they deserve – in our news, in our schools, in pop culture.”
- Reshma Saujani, Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code.
Couldn’t we agree with her more? The role of women in technology is practically invisible. One of the reasons is that history has hardly well documented or even acknowledged their struggles or their success. However, today’s society has advanced in quite a ways and is celebrating women leaders in technology.
Deloitte Global predicts that large global technology firms, on average, will reach nearly 33% overall female representation in their workforces in 2022, up slightly more than 2 percentage points from 2019. A number of organizations are working to encourage young girls to opt for career options in the tech space.
iLink Digital employees and leaders are in constant awe of women in the tech industry and those paving the way for others. Despite the pandemic-driven spikes in global unemployment, we as a leading tech organization have maintained momentum on the gender front and managed to keep female representation on an upward trajectory.
While any day is a great opportunity to celebrate women in tech, International Women’s Day is one more reason to do so. On this special occasion, we have compiled a list of inspiring women to showcase their vital work and acknowledge their outstanding achievements in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
- Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl Sandberg is one of Silicon Valley’s most successful women and a trailblazer who has beaten the odds. She is famous for executive positions at Apple, Google, Yahoo!, and currently serves as a Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Meta (formerly Facebook).
In addition to managing tech companies, Sandberg has also authored popular management books such as Lean In Women, and Work and the Will to Lead. In 2021, she ranked 36th on the Forbes Power Women list and 15th on Forbes America’s Self-Made Women list.
She is also the founder of the Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization started with the aim to inspire women and help them achieve their goals. Sheryl serves on the boards of Women for Women International, ONE, and Momentive.
- Debjani Ghosh
Debjani is the fifth and the first woman president of the National Association of Software & Services Companies (NASSCOM), a lobby group that represents India’s $167 billion IT-BPM industry. She is responsible for establishing new growth areas for the industry and firmly believes in leveraging the power of technology for societal good.
She was instrumental in developing the ‘Think Digital, Think India’ strategy that helped India to accentuate its digital transformation journey. Ghosh is the first woman to lead tech giant Intel India, MAIT (Manufacturers’ Association for Information Technology), and now NASSCOM,
She is a strong advocate of gender diversity and equal representation in corporate India. “Gender diversity is an imperative for the success of any business and not just a woman-centric conversation,” she says. “As we rapidly pace towards automation, cultivation of technological skills coupled with soft skills will give women an edge over machines,” she adds.
- Megan Smith
Megan Smith served as the Chief Technology Officer of the United States under President Barak Obama. She is an award-winning entrepreneur, engineer, tech evangelist, and the first woman to hold the highest technology role in the United States. She used this opportunity to encourage women and the LGBTQ community to opt for jobs in the technology industry.
She most recently served as a Vice President at Google, first leading new business developments and later as a VP in the leadership team. Today she is the CEO and founder of shift7, a company working collaboratively on finding solutions to systemic social, environmental, and economic problems.
Smith is a strong advocate for tech experts to join public life. She said, “I actually think that working in the federal government, or state or local, is one of the most significant things a technical person can do.”
- Joy Buolamwini
Joy Buolamwini is a Ghanaian American computer scientist. She is often regarded as the poet of code as she uses art and research to illuminate the social implications of artificial intelligence. She discovered that algorithms for facial recognition failed to identify women having darker tones, even of the iconic women like Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, and Serena Williams.
This inspired her to launch a project called Gender Shades as her MIT thesis that uncovered large racial and gender bias in AI services from companies like Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon. She then created a program called Algorithmic Justice League to fight bias in technology and create a world with more equitable technology.
She was awarded a grand prize in the Search for Hidden Figures contest for her work on biases in computer algorithms. Currently, Joy serves on the Global Tech Panel convened by the vice president of the European Commission to advise world leaders and technology executives on ways to reduce the harms of A.I.
Digging from the past!
- Ada Lovelace: The First Computer Programmer.
Ada Lovelace is considered the first computer programmer. Her mathematical talent, skills, and interest in machines lead to a working relationship with Charles Babbage. She supplemented work for him with an elaborate set of notes containing what many consider the first computer program for developing the Analytical Engine.
Even though it was never built, she realized that the computer could follow a series of simple instructions to perform a complex calculation. From the 1950s her work came to be highly regarded, influencing modern computer science and the technology industry. Even Alan Turing was inspired by Lovelace’s notes on Analytical Engine for developing his first modern computer.
- Grace Hopper: Queen of Software.
Rear Admiral Grace M. Hopper was a computer pioneer, best known for her contributions to computer programing, software development, and the design and implementation of programming languages. Her work led to the development of COBOL, an early programming language that we still use to this day. In 1947, she recorded the world’s first-ever real computer bug.
An optimist and a visionary, Hopper, believed in the potential of computers. She once said in an interview, “I think we consistently…underestimate what we can do with computers if we really try”. It was her idea of writing programs in words rather than symbols to help expand the community of computer users.
Hopper also has a long and influential career in the U.S. Navy and retired at the age of 79 as an admiral. She was the oldest serving officer in the U.S. armed forces. The same year she started working as a senior consultant in public relations at the Digital Equipment Corporation, where she worked until she died in 1992.
- Mary Allen Wikes: First Personal Computer User.
Mary Wikes is a former computer programmer and logic designer, best known for her work on the LINC, which is considered by many to be the world’s first personal computer in history. She is also credited for designing the interactive operating system LAP6 for the LINC while working in the development team under Wesley A. Clark.
Initially, she worked at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, programming different computers for IBM, and later joined the LINC development team. Her use of the LINC while working from her parent’s home in Baltimore in 1965, made her the first to use a personal computer. So if you are reading this article from your PC, you know who to thank.
Mary’s work has also been recognized at The National Museum of Computing, Bletchley Park. After having a successful career in technology, she left programming to return back to pursue her first dream of becoming a lawyer.
- Hedy Lamar: Mother of Wi-Fi.
Hedy Lamarr was an Austrian-American actress and inventor of a radio communications device, the same technology that formed the basis of today’s WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth communication systems. During WWII, she played an integral role in inventing the spread-spectrum and frequency hopping technology, with the help of the composer George Antheil.
The frequency hopping system was invented to minimize the jamming of radio signals and set off the radio-guided torpedoes off their targets. This technology encrypted the audio from enemies, forbidding outside agents to intercept what messages were being communicated. After Lamar’s death, she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014, for the development of the frequency hopping technology.
- Katherine Johnson: The Human-Computer.
Katherine Johnson was a mathematical genius whose trajectory analysis was crucial to the success of the first-ever US space flight. She began working in the computing unit at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), in 1953 along with a group of African American women who had to perform complex mathematical computations manually for the engineer’s program.
Their working conditions were not easy as African Americans had to use separate bathrooms and ate in separate dining facilities, located in whole different buildings, sometimes miles away.
However, in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), occupied NACA which banned segregation.
Johnson authored and coauthored 26 research reports in her career. At age 97, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, by President Obama.
The Future of Women in Tech.
The number of women in tech is increasing, though as slow as a snail’s paces in comparison to other industries but surely. There are more women in tech leadership positions today than ever before. However, there is still much, much progress yet to be made.
Though cultural attitudes are changing, improving the outlook, women are likely to experience a unique set of obstacles due to deep-rooted stereotypes and residual bias. With more and more women taking the plunge in the technology sector, the world has no choice but to adapt to the change.