Women Who Changed the Tech World: Part 2
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.
Grace Hopper (1906 – 1992) was a computer scientist, mathematician, and U.S. Naval officer. She is best known for her innovative contributions to computer programming, software development, and the design and implementation of programming languages. She is considered one of the first three modern coders, today known as programmers.
In 1934, Grace received her Ph.D. in mathematics and mathematical physics from Yale. After the U.S. entered World War II, she decided to join the war effort in 1943. She was initially rejected because of her age (she was 34 at the time) and small stature, so she joined the Navy Reserves. She was assigned to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard University. She joined the team working on the IBM Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator, aka MARK I, the first electromechanical computer in the U.S.
Photograph from 1984
In 1952, Grace developed the first compiler which translated mathematical code into machine-readable code; the first step towards creating modern programming languages. The following year, she proposed the idea of writing programs in words versus symbols but was told her idea would never work. Nevertheless, she continued to persevere; and in 1956, her team was running FLOW-MATIC, the first programming language to use word commands. It helped expand the community of computer users, making it accessible to those without an engineering or math background.
Dr. Fei-Fei Li (born 1976) is a professor in the Computer Science Department at Stanford University and the inventor of ImageNet, an image database that has been vital in artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning research advancement. This database helped train the first computer to recognize and understand what is in a picture. In 2017, she co-founded AI4ALL, a national non-profit aimed at improving diversity in the field of AI.
PHOTO BY COURTESY OF FEI-FEI LI
Dr. Li was born in Beijing, China and moved to the U.S. when she was sixteen. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in physics from Princeton, PhD in electrical engineering from California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and a Doctorate Degree (Honorary) from Harvey Mudd College. She commented, while at Princeton, she returned home most weekends so she could work in her parents' dry-cleaning shop.
She joined Stanford in 2009 as an assistant professor, and then became a full professor in 2017. On her sabbatical from 2017-2018, Li joined Google Cloud as Vice President and Chief Scientist of AI/ML.
Lisa Gelobter (born 1971) is a computer scientist, technologist, and served as the Chief Digital Service Officer for the Department of Education in the White House.
In 2006, Gelobter co-founded and became CEO of tEQuitable, a confidential platform that helps companies create a safe, inclusive, and equitable workplaces by providing a space where issues of bias, harassment, and discrimination can be addressed.
Lisa has worked on several Internet technologies that have been used by billions of people worldwide, such as Hulu and Shockwave. She previously acted as the Chief Digital Officer for BET Networks and is one of the first 40 African-American women ever to have raised over $1mm in venture capital funding.
Annie Easley (1933 – 2011) was a barrier-breaking mathematician and rocket scientist who worked at NASA for more than 30 years. In 1955, she began her career as a “human computer” performing computations for researchers. At the time she was hired, she was one of only four African-American employees working at the “Lab”, the research center at NASA. She developed and implemented code for energy-conversion systems that led to the development of the battery technology used in the first hybrid cars.
At NASA, she conducted tutoring programs and was part of the Speakers Bureau, encouraging students, especially female and minority students, to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Later, she took on the role of equal employment opportunity (EEO) counselor where she helped supervisors address issues of gender, race, and age in discrimination complaints.
Despite facing discrimination throughout her career, she never backed down. In a 2001 interview, she said, “My head is not in the sand. If I can’t work with you, I will work around you. I was not about to be [so] discouraged that I’d walk away. That may be a solution for some people, but it’s not mine.”
Lynn Conway (born 1938) is a computer scientist, electrical engineer, transgender activist, and pioneer of microelectronics chip design. Her innovations during at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in the 1970s paved the way for the modern microchips found in almost all high-technology systems, including computers, mobile phones, and the internet.
Lynn earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering in 1962 and 1963 from Columbia University, and then joined IBM Research. There, she made huge contributions to computer architecture, which is used by most modern computer processors to improve performance.
Lynn said she did all her groundbreaking work in “stealth-mode” after secretly completing her gender transition in 1968. As she neared retirement in 1998, she came out via the internet and her website. She published a memoir in 2012 about how she changed an entire industry while remaining “closeted” and has become a beacon of hope for transgender people worldwide.