In General

Programming “Like a Girl”:

Women Who Changed Computer Programming History

March is Women’s History Month. In honor of tech-y women near and far, present and past, we’re commemorating a few of the most influential women in computer programming history; women who prove that programming “like a girl” is a compliment of the highest regard.

The Six Female ENIAC Programmers
Between 1943 and 1945, six women programmed the ENIAC–one of the earliest electronic general-purpose computers in the world–as part of a U.S. Army project. Without the luxury of programming textbooks or tools, Kathleen McNulty, Betty Snyder Holberton, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, Jean Jennings Bartik, Ruth Lichterman, and Frances Bila Spence programmed an 80 foot-long by 8 foot-tall machine with over 3,000 switches to run a ballistics trajectory in just seconds. Although these women receive credit for this feat nowadays, their names weren’t even mentioned when the machine was revealed in 1946.

Grace Murray Hopper
Ever wonder where the term “debugging” comes from? Rumor has it this colloquialism traces back to Hopper, who literally had to extract a moth from inside a computer while troubleshooting. Dubbed “The Queen of Software,” Hopper graduated from Vassar College in 1928 with a B.A. in mathematics and physics and later joined the Navy Reserve during the war. She was the first woman to obtain a PhD in Mathematics from Yale and the first female to reach admiral rank in the Navy, where she worked on the first programmable computer in the U.S., the Mark I. Hopper also developed COBOL (common business-oriented language), one of the first modern programming languages. That’s a lot of firsts!

Ada Lovelace
The daughter of famed poet Lord Byron, Lovelace’s mother steered her away from her father’s literary tendencies and toward mathematics. Lovelace met English mathematician and engineer, Charles Babbage, at a party in 1833, where he told her about early plans for his Babbage Engine. Later on in 1843, Lovelace translated an article on the engine into French, adding her own notes about using a series of operations with the computer to solve a mathematical problem. Although the engine was never successfully built, Lovelace’s writing is considered the first published description of such a process; because of this, she is sometimes called the “first programmer.”

Radia Perlman
The world knows Perlman as “The Mother of the Internet,” but she resents the title, arguing that no single person can be responsible for this impressive accomplishment. Perlman developed the Spanning Tree Protocol, which allows loop-free topology for bridged Ethernet areas. Perlman has a B.S. and M.S. in mathematics and a PhD in Computer Science, all from MIT. She holds over 100 patents and has won multiple awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from Usenix.

Karen Spärck Jones
Jones, a British computer scientist, is credited with inventing IDF in 1972. IDF, or “inverse document frequency,” is the statistical method behind weighting terms in search engines, which helps rank their importance when a user enters a query. Variations of IDF are used in modern search engines to rank a web page’s relevance to a user’s search. Without Jones’ contribution, navigating the internet would be pretty chaotic.

Codeup’s Female Grads
Finally, this blog post wouldn’t be complete without the mention of Codeup’s female graduates. We’d like to collectively commend the 28 female students who have completed or are currently completing our bootcamp. Although we’d love to list them all, we’ve limited it to a few shoutouts for sake of space:

Codeup is passionate about narrowing the gender gap in programming. Learn more about our women’s scholarship program.