If you think all computer professionals are men think again. Mr. Connelly tells us about some well-known women in computer annals.

One of the many public debates in Australia at the moment is on the question of women in the computing industry. For many people, the computer industry and computers in general are seen to be a domain where big boys play with toys. Of course, in a society and economy based on the division of labor this may very well be true, but that is another article. The heads of all the large companies are men: Bill Gates and Steve Jobs to name but two. However, the same must be said of almost all companies and institutions in modern society. The computer industry does not exist in a vacuum; as much as anything else in our world, it is a plaything of larger forces.

What of the role of women in computing? From the earliest days of computing to the writing of the Standard Template Library, women have played an active and leading role in computer science. The following examples should quickly prove this statement to be true.

Ada Lovelace

We can start with a question: who was the U.S. Army’s programming language named after? Ada Lovelace, daughter of the English poet Lord Byron. (Rather ungallantly, Byron left Ada and her mother, Anne Isabella Milburke, when Ada was one year of age, to seek glory in Greece, where he succumbed to a fever instead of leading a stirring charge—history can be quite unforgiving.) A brilliant mathematician, she worked on the analytic engine with Charles Babbage, devising a method of programming based on the cards used on a Jaquard loom—a type of input some of us older people can remember from standardized testing in our school days, or from the Simpsons cartoon, where Apu wrote a tic-tac-toe game in his university days (before becoming the fifth Beatle).

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Written by Thomas Connelly

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