Women and Technology: Who is Grace Hopper?

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Women and technology: Here is computer legend Grace Hopper
Grace Hopper is known as the First Lady of Software. (Pixabay).

Some of the biggest organizations in the world are in the tech sector. Change is happening at a rapid pace in tech. Yes, it’s for good reason that this era is called the digital revolution. Women are playing key roles in the tech field, from management to the classroom. Yes, women and technology is a connection that is awesome to see. Tech is a sector that has been dominated by men for so long. A female role model like Grace Hopper can help inspire women and girls to pursue careers in this exciting field, developing non-jailbreak iPhone solutions and other computer-related initiatives.

Why is Grace Hopper Called the First Lady of Software?

Dubbed the “First Lady of Software,” Grace Hopper (1906-1992) was an incredible lady. Not only was she a United States Navy rear admiral but also a computer scientist. She was pivotal in programming the first compilers, called Universal Automatic Computers (UNIVAC). This software was what NASA used to receive and relay messages with astronauts. The designs were critical to the creation of the modern computer.

Some of the computer-related language Grace Hopper initiated is still used today. For example, she referred to computer issues as “bugs.” She helped create a computer called the Mark I and even after she completed her active duty career in 1946 she continued to help with the compilation of Mark II and Mark III. It was after 1949 that she assisted with the UNIVAC communications.

Grace Hopper’s contributions to computer programming were crucial to Apollo development. The Apollo spacecraft needed special communications to keep in touch with Earth during its mission as the astronauts would be so far away. NASA developed a tracking system called the Deep Space Tracking Network (DSTN) that is still in use today. The DSTN stations – there were three of them then – included UNIVAC 1230 systems in their computer rooms.

The 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom

For her influences, Hopper was posthumously awarded the 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom. This award is the highest civilian honor. The then President Obama that awarded this one. Twenty-one people received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. Another woman in this group? Melinda Gates.

Grace Hopper’s contributions to computer programming are said to have contributed to modern programming languages and help the U.S. Navy standardize and update its computer structure. It’s no wonder that she held the nickname “Amazing Grace.”

Grace Hopper Continues to Inspire Women

Grace Hopper’s contributions to the advancement of women and technology, and specifically to computer programming, continue to live on today. Her inspiration to women is clear at the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women. Often simply called GHC, it is THE largest gathering point of female technologists. AnitaB.org and the Association of Computing Machinery jointly organize the Grace Hopper Celebration. GHC began in 1994.

The Grace Hopper Celebration spotlights amazing females in technology as speakers and session panelists. Past speakers include Susan Landau and Sheryl Sandberg. Women recognized for making a difference in the world receive awards at the yearly gathering. Previous recipients include BlogHer. There are mentoring workshops too at this spectacular event that revolves around women and technology.

Grace Hopper contributed to the history and present way we use computers

A Critical Look at Women and Technology

Unfortunately, not all women and technology have received the same recognition for their accomplishments as Grace Hopper. So, why are so many women forgotten in areas such as computer programming and STEM overall?

Sadly I remember looking through textbooks as a girl in history classes and seeing many men featured in the books for their computer-related contributions. Where were women and technology? I didn’t see myself there as a female very often. Of course, women were making accomplishments, as proven by Grace Hopper and others. In fact, women were the biggest trained technical workforce of the computing sector in WWII and throughout the 1960s. They operated computers, made WWII calculations, and more.

But in the 1970s, men began to replace women and received higher pay. Many managers saw women as having career potential only until they married and had kids. Sexism? Misogyny? Yes, and these disturbing phenomena still occur in some workplaces today. Sexual harassment in the workplace still happens too.

By the 1980s, the number of women studying computer science flattened and then dipped. Remember Revenge of the Nerds? It was a bunch of smart, geeky computer guys who got the girl by the film’s end.

But writing off women’s abilities in tech or any other field is not something that we’ll stand for anymore. We won’t forget Grace Hopper and countless others who helped advance women and technology. The gender gap still exists but we women know our power and won’t back down. We also won’t shy away from our femininity. We can be feminine and equals; these two terms do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Feel free to share your thoughts on Grace Hopper or women and technology in general in the Comments section below.

25 COMMENTS

  1. Christy, thanks for choosing this subject to write about. As a retired computer science professor, there are lots I could add about Grace Hopper, women in IT, and also the history of technology in general. I’m always glad to see articles like this. But I need to point out a small problem: that picture is most definitely not Grace Hopper!

    • Haha yes I’ve updated the post due to that issue 😉 Now I’m reading your comment – you are astute and also so glad that you find this post to be an important one. Women in IT and elsewhere in tech are doing great things and have been for some time now. Let’s continue to spotlight them.

  2. One very early female computing pioneer was Lady Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron. She is often called the world’s first programmer. She was a mathematician who worked with Charles Babbage when he developed his Analytic Machine, the precursor to a modern computer. Her life story is fascinating.

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