To mark International Women’s Day we’re celebrating the past and present pioneering women of tech, from the original girl geek Ada Lovelace to the female coders of today. We love to champion these brilliant women, and others like them, each and every day of the year. But this week in particular, we’re highlighting these sheroes and asking what will you do? How will you #PressForProgress?
Joan Clarke (1917 – 1996)
In 1940, Joan Clarke was recruited to work at Bletchley Park and became the only female practitioner of Banburismus (a cryptanalytic process developed by Alan Turning). Despite carrying out the same work as her male counterparts she was paid less due to her gender.
Clarke played a vital role in the Enigma project that decrypted the secret communications of Nazi Germany.
Joan initality avoided the spotlight but was later awarded awards and citations for her work during the war.
Clarke was portrayed by Keira Knightley in the 2014 movie, The Imitation Game.
Dr Sue Black left home and school aged 16. By 25, she was a single parent living on a council estate in Brixton. She decided to get an education and studied maths at Southwark College, then gained a degree in computing and a PhD in software engineering at London South Bank University. Today she is a leading British academic.
A champion for women in computing, she founded BCSWomen the UK’s first online network for women in tech, and #techmums, a social enterprise which empowers mums and their families through technology.
Sue played a pivotal role in the fight to save Bletchley Park, the home of the British codebreakers during World War II. She has written a book about this campaign and her contribution was recognised with the award of an OBE.
Mary Jackson (1921- 2005)
Mary Jackson started her career in computing at the segregated West Area Computing division. She was the first woman of colour admitted to Hampton High School, where she took advanced class in engineering.
Once she finished her studies Jackson became NASA’s first black female engineer and later went on to work as an engineer in several of NASA’s divisions. After 34 years at NASA Jackson had reached the most senior title within the engineering department. She actively worked to make changes and encourage women and other minorities to enter into STEM careers.
Mary Jackson was portrayed in the critically acclaimed movie, Hidden Figures by Janelle Monáe.
Pae Natwilai grew up in Bangkok before receiving a scholarship to study global innovation design at Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art. This is where her fascination with drones began, and the seed was planted for her start-up, TRIK.
Still under thirty, Pae is leading a new generation of female tech entrepreneurs as Founder and Director of TRIK. This technology start-up uses automated drones to check for damage or defects to large structures – such as oil rigs, bridges, or multi-storey buildings and has been described by Pae as “like Google Maps for structures”.
In 2017 the company was awarded a Design & Innovation Award.
Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852)
Born in 1815, Ada was the sole child of the brief and tempestuous marriage of the erratic poet Lord Byron (George Gordon), and his mathematics-loving wife Annabella Milbanke. At the age of 19 she married an aristocrat, William King and her correct name is actually Lady Ada King, Countess of Lovelace.
More commonly known as Ada Lovelace, we celebrate her as the original girl geek. Ada is credited as being the very first computer programmer.
Ada was the first person to recognise that machines could comprehend more than pure calculations and she later published the first algorithm to be carried out by a machine. Her work was originally cited under the initialism ALL in Richard Taylor’s Scientific Memoirs and re-published in 1953, over a century after her death.
Born in Copenhagen and now based in Berlin, Ida graduated from Denmark’s prestigious creative business school, the KaosPilots. In 2013 Ida co-founded the app Clue, which tracks menstruation cycles. She is cited as coining the term “FemTech”.
While menstruation apps existed before Clue, Ida felt they were “patronising” towards women, telling The Guardian in 2017 that women “want science, want to learn about endometriosis, want the latest research news”.
In 2015, Ida worked with Apple to help them develop their own period tracking software for their HealthKit platform. In the same year she was named the Female Web Entrepreneur of the Year at the Slush Conference. A lifelong entrepreneur, she previously led motorcycle tours around the world and published a book about her experience, “Direktøs” which became a Danish bestseller.
Grace Hopper (1906 – 1992)
Grace Hopper coined the idea of machine-independent programming languages, leading to the development of COBOL, a high-level programming language that is still in popular use today.
Many doubted her ability to compile a data programme in English that a computer could understand by translating it into machine code. But nevertheless, she persisted.
Grace studied at Yale and in 1934 she earned a Ph.D. in mathematics. She was one of the first few woman to earn such a degree.
As well as being a computer scientist, Hopper served as a Navy Rear Admiral in the United States.
Kavita’s story offers inspiration to those looking to change careers and take their first step in the tech sector. A million miles from the coder stereotype of the nerdy young guy in a hoodie, Kavita’s career began with a BA in Fashion Design and experience working in the fashion industry.
In 2017, she won a scholarship on to Northcoders’ 3-month coding bootcamp; an experience that Kavita describes as completely changing her life.
After graduating, she was offered the opportunity to join the Northcoders growth team where her role includes working as a full stack developer, supporting with content creation and contributing to marketing ideas to help grow the Northcoders community.
Kavita gives back to the tech community as a volunteer with Tech Returners.
Hedy Lamarr (1914 – 2000)
Hedy Lamarr was not just a glamorous Hollywood actress, she was also an important inventor.
During WWII Lamarr and composer George Antheil developed a radio system that was to be used by the Allied torpedoes.
The principles developed by the two were the foundation of some of today’s most used technologies, such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
It was not until after her successful career as an inventor that Lamarr was scouted by Hollywood.
Siobhan joined the newly formed Media Molecule in 2006 in the role of Executive Producer, but in September 2009 she was named Studio Director. She describes this role as “herding cats”.
After winning a Production Award at the first ever Microsoft Women in Gaming Awards for her work on best selling game ‘Little Big Planet’, she became known as one of the biggest movers and shakers in the gaming industry.
In 2013 she was named one of the 100 most powerful women in the UK by BBC’s Woman’s Hour, while in 2014 she was named in Fortune’s 10 Powerful Women in Gaming.
Siobhan has championed diversity within the gaming industry, remarking in 2016: “We need people’s different perspectives, because it’s a medium. If writing was only by one type of person, then you’d only get one type of book.”
Tweet @LpoolGirlGeeks to share your past and present women in tech pioneers and let us know how you #PressForProgress.
Many thanks to the amazing team at our proud partner Uniform for creating the brilliant illustrations and animations for our International Women’s Day campaign.