“I want to program just like you.”
When it comes to technology graduates, men are the overwhelming majority. Naturally, the technology field is comprised mainly of men. What if we tackle the problem from the bottom-up? While companies are aggressively hiring as diversely as they can, this does little to diversify the actual roster of potential hires to choose from. Let’s change the diversity of that roster- let’s inspire a more diverse body of students to enroll in technology programs. Can we break the illusion that science and technology are only for boys? Surely- and we can start by reforming the way we look at how we treat the history of science and technology.
More and more, I’ve begun to realize that we’ve downplayed the importance of women in the history of technology- almost to the point of obscurity. Today, a few questions about the history of computing came up in one of my classes. When our professor asked if anyone knew who ‘came up’ with the first computer, a barrage of guesses were fired- all famous men in computing history. The next question: “Who was the first programmer?” His eyes wandered over the classroom, eventually landing on me. “Ada Lovelace.” Silence. It was the right answer, but the lack of enthusiasm in the classroom prompted the following remark:
“You guys are all misogynistic assholes.”
More trivia questions of this nature only reaffirmed this bold claim. It certainly wasn’t dead-on accurate, but I saw gears grinding, most of the class in deep thought. The realization that women like Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace, and Hedy Lamarr (to name just a few!) were just as important or more so than men like Alan Turing, Charles Babbage, or Dennis Ritchie seemed like it was beginning to click. To me, these women and men have always inspired my love for computing. Certainly, growing up, I would read about individuals like John Carmack and think: “I want to program just like him.” The idea that some of the class (men and women alike) were unaware of the contributions of these women in computing was worrisome.
Oftentimes, it’s the famous that inspire interest in something: it’s empowering when someone like you is able to achieve so much- and so I think it’s important that we celebrate the famous women in technology as much as we celebrate the famous men.
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