Women’s History Month 2016
March is Women’s History Month in the US and before it ends, we’d just like to get a few words in about women in technology.
From phrases like “Linux beards” to the steaming piles of praise heaped on visionary men in tech like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, to studies showing a pay gap in tech jobs or at least that higher-paying tech positions are more commonly held by men than by women, it can often seem like gender bias is baked into the tech world.
Sexism is real, and claiming that none exists in the field of technology and on the internet is a deliberately blind-folded way of looking at things.
“Computer,” used to be a job title. Back in the days of “analog” computers, women arranged the switches and circuits required to make the complex calculations used for ballistics in World War II. It’s not a stretch to note that these were some of the first computer programmers and they were all women.
Among them were women such as Betty Holberton, who helped develop the landmark C-10 instructions for BINAC. With her collaborator Grace Hopper, she worked on the earlstandard of COBOL and FORTRAN. Hopper herself was essential in the creation of the FLOW-MATIC language for UNIVAC I and II. She also invented the concept of “debugging” when she removed a moth from inside a computer. And once she said, “It is easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to get permission.”
Radia Perlman is considered the “mother of the Internet” and developed key protocols like spanning-tree protocol and TRILL.
Last month we posted about IANA and Jon Postel’s work on Internet architecture but we couldn’t touch the subject without mentioning both his collaborator at USC/ISI Joyce Reynolds or Elizabeth Feinler at SRI-NIC (who deserves a post in her own right).
But enough nostalgia. The past is a reminder to the future not to compromise this legacy. We value the contributions that women are making today to the tech community in formal and informal roles. And not only do we support women in traditional tech roles but we encourage you to look into groups like Girls Who Code and HackerMoms who are creating new options for women and girls.
After talking about Betty Holberton, we would be remiss not to mention our friends at Holberton School as well, who are, in part, aiming to bring more women, among others, into tech.
Information technology is capable of transforming society into a better place. We insist that that means a better place for women too. Happy Women’s History Month!