Today if you walk into a computer programming or computer science class on nearly any college campus, the room will be filled with primarily young adult males. Does this shock you? It shouldn’t. Yet this hasn’t always been the case. Does this shock you? How about the fact that women were some of the frontrunners in computer programming? It should based on how history has been told.

Science and mathematics have long been regarded as masculine studies because that’s what the media consistently reports. If women were involved it was reported that they simply assisted, even when their work shows they were co-contributors with their male colleagues. Considered the first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace was tutored almost exclusively in mathematics and worked on Charles’ Babbage’s analytical engine. Despite reports of Babbage himself saying that Lovelace understood the computations and calculations of the machine better than he did, Babbage is credited as the sole inventor of the machine. When computers really took off in the 1940s, leaders such as Gertrude Blanch, Adele Goldstine, and Grace Hopper made monumental contributions to the industry, yet aren’t recognized today by most programmers or programming students. While female programmers were the minority for most of the 20th century, it was a mere 60-40 split with their male counterparts. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are modern-day examples of programming geniuses but women had been dominating the role long before Apple or Microsoft ever existed.

Many believe that women are underrepresented in technology because there aren’t ample, prevalent role models for them to look up to which since the 1980s has sadly been true. When Steve Jobs and Bill Gates broke into fame, they were the image of the classic computer programmer. Women in the industry shifted from 40% at the time to now closer to 17% according to various studies. This 17% have recently been pushing young girls to remember that they do have role models to look to and they shouldn’t be afraid to become programmers.

 

Grace Hopper, electronic computer automatic programmer

Grace Hopper, electronic computer automatic programmer

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