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5 Women Who Changed the World of Technology

5 Women Who Changed the World of Technology

Former NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson is seen after President Barack Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls) Johnson's computations have influenced every major space program from Mercury through the Shuttle program. Johnson was hired as a research mathematician at the Langley Research Center with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the agency that preceded NASA, after they opened hiring to African-Americans and women. Johnson exhibited exceptional technical leadership and is known especially for her calculations of the 1961 trajectory for Alan Shepard’s flight (first American in space), the 1962 verification of the first flight calculation made by an electronic computer for John Glenn’s orbit (first American to orbit the earth), and the 1969 Apollo 11 trajectory to the moon. In her later NASA career, Johnson worked on the Space Shuttle program and the Earth Resources Satellite and encouraged students to pursue careers in science and technology fields.

Celebrate Women’s Achievements

At FDM, we believe in working to help gain equality and eradicate discrimination against women. We celebrate women’s achievements and acknowledge the great women of today, be they our mothers, grandmothers, teachers, colleagues or friends.

Here are some of our favourite unsung heroes of the technology world whose great work has contributed to the development of our much-loved modern technology, including home computers, Wifi and search engines.

Inspirational Women in Technology

Hedy Lamarr setting the foundations of modern-day Wifi, 1914-2000

Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesle, better known as Hedy Lamarr, was a famous actress of the 1900s however her talents did not stop there. Hedy worked on various inventions, such as improving the traffic light and formulating tablets that would dissolve in water to create a carbonated drink (something she admits was unsuccessful). Interestingly, Hedy was completely self-taught and did not receive any formal training in technology or the art of invention. Hedy’s greatest invention was her secret communication system, a frequency hopping device, that she created with the help of George Antheil. The key purpose of this device was to set radio-guided torpedoes off course during the war, however it actually became an inspiration for many modern-day inventions, such as Wifi, GPS and Bluetooth.

Adele Goldberg paving the way for GUI, 1945- present

Adele received her bachelor's degree in mathematics at the University of Michigan, her master's degree in information science from the University of Chicago and her PhD in information science from the University of Chicago. She then went on to do great things. Adele was an active contributor to the development of Smalltalk-80, the programming language which then went on to inspire Apple computers. Apple used this programming language as the basis for their Apple Macintosh desktop environment. Adele was reluctant to hand over her work to Steve Jobs, and rightfully so, but her superiors forced her, and her work has now become the basis for graphical user interfaces (GUI) of today.

Elizabeth Feinler and the Search Engine, 1931- present

Elizabeth was director of the Network Information Systems Centre at the Stanford Research Institute between 1972 and 1989. The Network Information Centre is a bit like the early stages of Google and was the first place to publish the resources for the Internet. Elizabeth’s group also developed the domain naming scheme of .com, .edu, .gov, .net, and many more that we use so commonly today.

Katherine Johnson: the NASA Mathematician, 1918- 2020

Katherine played a crucial role in the success of NASA’s first ever crewed spaceflights. Her trajectory analysis and work as a mathematician were vital for this and future space exertions, including when the first American orbited the Earth, John Glenn. In 2015, at the age of 97, Katherine was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama for her work. The space agency also noted Katherine’s ‘historical role as one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist’.

Mary Wilkes making a home computer possible, 1937- present 

Mary Wilkes was the brains behind the LINC computer aka the world's first "personal computer". Her use of the LINC computer at home in 1965 also makes her the first ever person to use a home computer! Mary Wilkes did not have the same clear career path as some women in tech; she actually always wanted to be a lawyer. So, after only a few years as one of the first computer programmers, she went on to practice law. Mary’s incredible work has been recognised and included in The National Museum of Computing ‘Heroines of Computing' exhibition, as well as in Germany at the Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum, exhibiting in the ‘In the beginning was Ada: Women in Computer History’.

Here’s to talented women: May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.

At FDM, championing women in tech is something we do every day. Did you know that only 14.4% of employees in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) workforce are women? Our Women in Tech initiative was established to change this, promote inclusion and help close the gender pay gap. We look to teach and nurture future talent and help them begin their careers in technology. Here are some of the inspirational women of FDM and their amazing stories: Could you be next? Find out more about our graduate careers programme. Featured image credit.

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