Did you know that the First Computer Programmer was a Woman?
Well, you probably don’t (I didn’t either!). So let me enlighten you today! Ada Lovelace was a mathematician in Victorian Times (Yes that long ago!) and she is credited as being the First Computer Programmer Ever. In her own words:
That brain of mine is something more than merely mortal; as time will show.
And this is true for the many women that have contributed to the rich history of Computer Programming and are yet forgotten by the modern world. So this article attempts to introduce some of these amazing women that made significant contributions to Computer Programming and in the process helped change the world!
Who Are These Women?
Without further ado, let’s learn something about these fabulous women that created history but is often forgotten by history.
1. Ada Lovelace – First Computer Programmer Ever
Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852) was a mathematician in Victorian Times and the daughter of Lord Byron, a famous English poet (Which is surprising since poetry and science rarely mix!!). She is mainly known for her contributions to the mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine created by Charles Babbage (And though we know his name, how many of us know hers?).
Ada Lovelace was also the first person to realize that the Analytical Engine could be used for more than just calculations and so she wrote an algorithm to compute Bernoulli numbers using the Analytical Engine. This is the reason she is known as “The First Computer Programmer in the World”.
Fun Fact: The programming language Ada was named after Ada Lovelace by the U.S. Department of Defense as a tribute.
2. Kathleen Booth – Creator of the Assembly Language
Kathleen Booth (Born 1922) wrote the first Assembly language in the world. And that is not enough, she also designed the assembler and autocode for the first computer system at Birkbeck College, the University of London (She sure was busy!!).
Kathleen Booth and her husband, Andrew Booth also co-authored a book about Automatic Digital Calculators in 1953. In that, they stated the design of a computer as well as the techniques used for programming it. They also mentioned Artificial Intelligence as a possible future application of computing machines.
Fun Fact: Kathleen Booth worked with her husband Andrew Booth to create three computers (the ARC, SEC and APE(X)C), wherein her husband built them and she programmed them (What a perfect team!!).
3. Margaret Hamilton – Director of Software Engineering Division (MIT)
Margaret Hamilton (Born 1936) was the director of the Software Engineering Division at MIT. She was responsible for creating the software(literally from scratch!!!) for the Apollo Guide Computer in the Apollo Space Program. And the experience was utterly new. According to her, “When I first got into it, nobody knew what it was that we were doing. It was like the Wild West. There was no course in it. They didn’t teach it.”
Margaret Hamilton didn’t just stop there! She went on to create the Universal Systems Language based on the experience of writing software for the Apollo program and also founded a company for that, Hamilton Technologies, Inc. For her phenomenal achievements, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by US President Barack Obama in 2016, which is the highest civilian honor in the United States.
Fun Fact: The term Software Engineering was coined by Margaret Hamilton to establish it as an engineering field in its own right (Which it wasn’t at the time!!!).
4. Grace Hopper – Creator of COBOL
Grace Hopper (1906 – 1992) was a Computer Scientist as well as a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy (She was multitalented!). She believed in machine-independent programming languages and so created the first compiler that converted English terms into machine code understood by computers.
That was not well received as Grace Hopper stated that: “I had a running compiler and nobody would touch it. They told me computers could only do arithmetic.” Nonetheless, this led to the creation of COBOL in 1959, an English-like programming language that is still used today.
Fun Fact: Grace Hopper was a sharp and opinionated speaker at various computer-related events in her later career, and was affectionately known as “Grandma COBOL”.
5. Joan Clarke – Enigma Code Breaker in World War 2
Joan Clarke (1917 – 1996) was an English cryptanalyst that was well known for her role as a code-breaker during the Second World War. She worked along with Alan Turing at Hut 8 in Bletchley Park (Their top-secret lair!!!) and was the only woman there that worked on decrypting the German Enigma messages. And she was paid less than her male co-workers even though she held the same position as them. (Sexism much?!)
Joan Clarke was eventually promoted to a Linguist (Even though she did not know any other languages!) so that she might get a pay-raise as there was no policy in place for a Senior Cryptanalyst who was a female. It is reported that in response to this, She enjoyed answering any questionnaire with ‘Grade: Linguist, Languages: none’ (Oh…the irony!!!)
Fun Fact: Joan Clarke was played by Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game, a 2014 movie based on the life of Alan Turing. (Do watch it, it’s great!!!)