When you take a look at the software development industry, it’s easy to quickly reach the conclusion that it’s something of a boy’s club. Indeed, men do make up the majority of programmers around the world. This can sometimes make it easy to overlook just how many women have made an incredible impact on the world of software development and computer science and continue to do so today. Let’s take a closer look at five women who helped make the world a better place with their programming prowess.
Have you ever wondered how many female programmers there are in the world? Well, for starters it’s helpful to determine the number of programmers in general. That would be 18.5 million according to a 2014 study by IDC. More recently, Evans Data Corporation estimated this figure at 21 million. Both of these estimates include professional programmers as well as hobbyists.
To get a rough idea of how many of them are female, we can turn to the most recent Stack Overflow Developer Survey, which includes detailed stats on the users that visit this enormously popular Q&A site for programmers from all walks of life. According to its data, women make up about 7.6 percent of all users, at the same time accounting for about 10 percent of all web traffic. It’s one of the highest estimates out there, meaning that overall women make something between 5 and 10 percent of all programmers.
For every woman who thinks of becoming a programmer, it may be reassuring to know that while women do make up just a few percent of professional programmers, it did nothing to stop many of them from revolutionizing, innovating and reaching the very top of the industry. Through their wit and skills, they made sure that every time their names are said, we are reminded that programming has little to do with gender and everything to do with talent, hard work and passion.
Very few know it today, but it was actually a woman that earned the title of being the first computer programmer. This distinction often goes to Ada Lovelace-an English mathematician known for her work with the “father of the computer”, Charles Babbage.
Babbage designed the Analytical Engine, the first Turing-complete machine that incorporated concepts such as conditional branching and looping. But it was Ada Lovelace who first noticed that this machine can be used for a lot more than just making calculations. She may have been the very first person to notice the enormous future potential of a computer. She went on to write algorithms that could be processed by such a machine. To make it even clearer just how pioneering her work was, it would take almost a century after her death for the first general-purpose computer to actually be completed.
In the early days of the computer age, programmers could only talk to computers using a binary code of ones and zeros. One of the first to try to change that, making code more human-readable, efficient and fun, was Grace Hooper, sometimes called the “Queen of Software” or “Grandma COBOL”. It was this American computer scientist and Navy rear admiral’s work that eventually led to the creation of COBOL in 1959—one of the first high-level programming languages still used until this very day.
Later in her life, she was a regular at computer events and even made an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman.
Today, “software engineering” is one of the most commonly used terms to refer to the work of professional developers. It was actually first coined by Margaret Hamilton, an American computer scientist. However, her achievements go far beyond coining the phrase. She was the Director of Software Engineering Division of a team which developed on-board flight software for the Apollo Space Program. Her contribution included the Apollo 11 mission, which successfully landed the first humans on the Moon.
For the past few years, Marissa Mayer has been known as CEO of Yahoo!—until the company was eventually sold to Verizon Communications. But it wasn’t at Yahoo! where she made a name for herself.
Mayer’s story is one of the most notable transitions from a programmer to a businessperson and CEO in the fashion of Mark Zuckerberg or Larry Page. The latter is quite relevant as Mayer first came into prominence at Google. She was the company’s twentieth employee and the first female engineer, helping to create products like Google Maps, Google News and Gmail. Her programming spirit led her to work at the falling giant Yahoo!, which she then saw as “the most amazing design problem I’ve ever gotten to work on.”
Out of all branches of software development, video games in particular may sometimes seem like a largely male-dominated area. However, Canadian Jade Raymond would beg to differ. This programmer and video games executive founded Canadian studios currently owned by Electronic Arts and Ubisoft. As a producer, she worked on titles such as the Assassin’s Creed series, Watch Dogs or Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist.
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