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15 Amazing Women Who Have Broken Glass Ceilings in Tech

Image: J. Brew on Flickr

Many people point out that despite substantial progress concerning gender equality, the tech sector is still a male-dominated industry. Regardless of that fact, women throughout history have boldly shattered glass ceilings with actions that forever changed technology and the way we use it.

1. Ada Lovelace (1815–1852)

Ada Lovelace was a mathematician that many people consider the first computer programmer. A friend of Charles Babbage, she understood the intricacies of his Analytical Engine. In the 1840s, she came up with a computer programming algorithm that only existed on paper.

2. Ida Rhodes (1900–1986)

Ida Rhodes devised the C-10 programming language in the 1950s to aid in calculating census data. Moreover, Rhodes designed the first computer used by the Social Security Administration, came up with an algorithm for calculating the dates of Jewish holidays and taught coding to disabled people.

3. Grace Hopper (1906–1992)

A United States Navy admiral, Grace Hopper is credited as a primary developer of COBOL, one of the first programming languages. She believed people should be able to understand computing languages as easily as English and received an award from President Barack Obama posthumously.

4. Hedy Lamarr (1914–2000)

Although she worked as an actress starting in the 1930s, Hedy Lamarr teamed up with her neighbor George Antheil to invent technology during World War II. It altered the frequency of radio-controlled torpedoes to prevent enemy forces from interfering with communication signals.

The two patented their idea in 1942, and the U.S. military used it during the Cuban Missile Crisis to maintain ship-to-ship communications.

5. Katherine Johnson (1918-)

After initially working as a teacher, Katherine Johnson was hired by NASA to solve complicated mathematical equations. It was her trajectory calculations that helped Alan Shepherd become the first American in space in 1961.

Later, Johnson played an instrumental role in the failed Apollo 13 mission by helping the astronauts return to Earth safely after two of their oxygen tanks exploded.

6. Erna Schneider Hoover (1926-)

Erna Schneider Hoover invented the telephone switchboard methods and technology still used today. While working for Bell Labs in the 1960s, she noticed that the company’s call center employees were swamped by unregulated incoming calls.

To solve that problem, she created a computerized system that detected the number of incoming calls. It adjusted how many came to call center employees’ phones at certain times.

7. Mildred Dresselhaus (1930–2017)

A specialist in the field of carbon science, Mildred Dresselhaus started researching carbon fiber and compounds in the 1960s. Her findings helped create future opportunities for using the carbon nanotubes that make devices more streamlined and powerful.

8. Frances E. Allen (1932-)

This multitalented woman started working for IBM in 1961 when she was hired to teach people about the Fortran programming language. She then transitioned by getting involved with optimizing compilers. They translate source code into code that computers use directly.

Allen received the A.M. Turing award in 2006 and was the first woman designated as an IBM fellow.

9. Annie Easley (1933–2011)

First employed as a “human computer” by the agency that eventually became NASA, Annie Easley was one of only four African-American workers at the organization. She later transitioned into a computer programming role, and developed energy conversion programming still used today for hybrid car batteries.

Despite her achievements, Easley encountered discrimination throughout her career. While her male colleagues had their university educations paid for when they attended classes as employees, she had to use her own money. Also, during a laboratory open house, a picture of the workers hung on the wall in an enlarged size, but Easley’s face was cut out of it.

10. Karen Spärck Jones (1935–2007)

As an employee of Cambridge University’s Natural Language Unit, this woman came up with the programming concepts that allow search engine queries today. Her findings helped queries determine the most relevant terms and facilitated computers to recognize the similarity in multiple terms.

Today, the research division at Microsoft has an award in her honor. It’s typically given to other pioneers who do work in language processing and information searching.

11. Adele Goldberg (1945-)

While working as the only woman on a team of male engineers at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in the 1970s, Adele Goldberg helped develop the Smalltalk-80 programming language and graphical user interface (GUI) that allows overlapping windows on computer displays.

It ended up attracting the attention of Apple founder Steve Jobs and influenced the look of computers that followed.

12. Carol Shaw (1955-)

Carol Shaw has the distinction of being considered the first female video game programmer. Although she’s primarily known for a 1982 game called “River Raid,” Shaw also contributed to earlier tic-tac-toe and checkers games.

13. Rosalind Picard (1962-)

Rosalind Picard is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the author of hundreds of academic papers. She’s also considered the founder of affective computing, a technology that helps machines recognize and interpret human emotions. It’s used in wearable gadgets.

14. Sheryl Sandberg (1969-)

Sheryl Sandberg is a Harvard University graduate and COO of Facebook, and became the first woman to serve as a Facebook board member in 2012. Before coming to Facebook, Sandberg worked at Google and was the chief of staff for Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers.

She also became famous for the “Lean In” concept, which birthed an organization that encourages women to take leadership roles.

15. Cam Kashani (1981-)

Cam Kashani is an Iranian-American woman who founded the first technology co-working space for technology startups and entrepreneurs. She wants to emphasize the human element of business and views the global economy with a “we” rather than “me” mindset.

Kashani works with both men and women, but believes strongly that women are the catalyst for changing the energy in business and making it more harmonious for everyone.

Inspiring Examples of Life-Changing Tech Influencers

This list is just a sampling of some of the most astounding women in the tech sector. They made lasting impacts on the industry and changed the way we use and understand technology.