Women Who Changed the Tech World: Part 1
Nth Generation would like you to join us in celebrating our values surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion. Women’s History Month is a meaningful component of that spectrum. We would like to shine a spotlight on a few of the many strong females who have shaped modern technology.
Mary Allen Wilkes (born 1937)
Not only did Mary Allen Wilkes help develop the LINC computer, the first "minicomputer" and the predecessor of personal computers today, she was also the first person to have a PC in her home.
Mary graduated from Wellesley College in 1959 and aspired to be a lawyer but was discouraged by mentors due to the challenges women faced in the field. So, on the day she graduated, her parents drove her to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) and she walked into the school’s employment office to ask if they had any jobs for computer programmers. They did, and she was hired.
She had no experience in computer programming; however, at that time, coding didn’t really exist, so institutions used aptitude tests to evaluate applicants’ ability to use logic. Mary soon became a whiz at programming. She first worked on the IBM 704, a laborious job as there were no keyboards and screens at the time. She had to write the program out on paper and have a typist translate it into an obscure “assembly language” that had to be fed into a reader.
Mary once said, “Computers were intellectually stimulating but socially isolating.” She left the tech industry field in 1972 to attend Harvard Law School and found success as a trial lawyer and professor at Harvard.
Ellen K. Pao (born 1970)
Ellen Kangru Pao is a tech investor and former CEO of social media company Reddit. She co-founded and has been the CEO of Project Include, a nonprofit focused on improving diversity and inclusion in the tech industry, since 2016.
Ellen first entered the spotlight in 2012 when she filed a failed $16 million gender discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, a venture capital firm, for gender discrimination. Despite losing the case, she brought attention to issues of gender inequality in the tech world.
“The Women of ENIAC” – Jean Jennings Bartik, Frances Bilas, Ruth Licherman, Kathleen McNulty, Betty Snyder, and Marlyn Wescoff (1917 – 2021)
U.S. Army/ARL Technical Library Archives
In 1945, six exceptional young women programmed the first all-electronic configurable computer called the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) to improve the accuracy of U.S. artillery during World War II. Coined “the ENIAC Women,” they did so using only logical diagrams since programming languages/tools didn’t exist then. The women’s work resulted in the first software program, the development of computer memory and storage, and the start of programming language.
However, when ENIAC was unveiled to the public in 1946, the women received no recognition for their work. But thanks to Kathy Kleiman, a leader in Internet law and policy, the story of these incredible women was brought to light. In 2022, she published Proving Ground: The Untold Story of the Six Women Who Programmed the World’s First Modern Computer, based on her research and interviews of the six women of ENIAC.
Reshma Saujani (born 1975)
Reshma Saujani is an activist and founder of Girls Who Code, a nonprofit organization whose aim is to support and increase the number of women in computer science. She is the author of a New York Times bestselling book and known for her TED Talk, “Teach girls bravery, not perfection.” The daughter of refugees, she graduated from Harvard University and Yale Law School, and became the first Indian-American woman to run for Congress.
Girls Who Code aims to increase the number of women in computer science and close the gender employment gap in that field. It runs over 8,500 programs throughout the academic year, including programming, robotics, and web design; along with trips to the campuses of companies such as Twitter and Facebook.
Anita Borg (1949 – 2003)
Anita Borg was an American computer scientist who advocated for women’s representation and advancement in technology. After graduating from New York University (NYU) in 1981, with a doctorate in synchronization efficiency in operating systems, she worked for various computer companies; before joining Xerox as a computer scientist in 1997.
In 1987, she founded the first email network and electronic community for women in technology, called Systers. Her goal was to “increase the number of women in computer science and make the environments in which women work more conducive to their continued participation in the field.” Today, Systers has over 8,500 members in more than 65 countries, and partners with top academic institutions and Fortune 500 companies.
In 1997, Anita founded the Institute for Women and Technology (IWT), known today as AnitaB.org. Located on the Xerox PARC campus, their goal is recruiting, retaining, and advancing women in technology. Anita strove to increase the representation of women in technical fields and ensure that women could impact and benefit from technology.
“I would love to recognize ALL the women at Nth. We are powerful women together because we embolden and empower each other. Together, we make a difference in the world of technology. Nth wouldn’t be where it is without the heart and the brains of our women, but mostly heart!”
- Jan Baldwin, Nth Generation CEO