Last month, we celebrated Girls in ICT Day under the theme of “Access & Safety.” In a statement made by UN Women on April 28, 2022, we were reminded that “every girl has a right to be connected and safe, and to play her part in shaping a more equal, green and tech-driven future.” There is no doubt that when exposed to technology, girls can grow up to be talented women in the tech workforce (if they choose), and that they bring their own perspectives and experiences that help to shape new technology. However, we need to ensure that our girls have access to digital tools that are safe and available to them so that they can reach their full potential. We also need to ensure that when women contribute to new tools, they are recognized and given the credit that they deserve. Today, we want to highlight 5 women in tech who have done their part in paving the way for us. They are not Caribbean women, but their contributions have inspired and made it possible for many of us to pursue careers in tech.
Number 1 is Ada Lovelace, a writer, mathematician and the daughter of a poet who lived in the 1800s. Ada was always good at mathematics and eventually met a man named Charles Babbage who designed the analytical engine – a machine for which she wrote notes that served as the first computer program. Ada recognized that the analytical engine had more potential than its original intent which was to be just a general purpose calculator. Her notes were the foundation for what we now call algorithms. We celebrate Ada Lovelace, well-known as the world’s very first computer programmer!
Our second pioneering woman in tech is Katherine Johnson.
She was an African-American mathematician who worked at NASA where she helped to make the first and subsequent flights to space successful. Although she mastered the art of solving complex calculations manually, she also helped to pioneer the use of computers to solve such problems.
Because of her unique mathematical capabilities, she was known as a “human computer.” Johnson is well-decorated with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Silver Snoopy Award, NASA Group Achievement Award, the 2019 Congressional Gold Medal and induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. We celebrate Katherine Johnson for her remarkable accomplishments!
Hedy Lamarr is said to be one of the greatest actresses of all time, but she is also known for her contribution to foundational technology that led to the invention of Wi-Fi. She was an only child with a keen interest in understanding how machines worked. Lamarr always had an inventive spirit and as World War II was looming, she worked with George Antheil to develop a new communication system that could guide torpedoes to their targets in war. The system was a radio guidance system in which frequency hopping was used to prevent radio wave interception. This work laid the foundation for Bluetooth and GPS technology and are similar to methods used in legacy versions of Wi-Fi. Although she received recognition for her acting roles, it wasn’t until her later years that she received any awards for her invention. Lamar was the first woman to receive the Invention Convention’s Bulbie Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award and she was also inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame after she died. We celebrate Hedy Lamarr, well-known as “the mother of Wi-Fi”.
Karen Sparck-Jones is known as The Pioneer in Information Science. She was a British computer scientist who developed the concept of inverse document frequency (IDF) which is the underlying technology in most search engines. She combined statistics with linguistics to establish formulas that laid the foundation for how computers could interpret relationships between words, and this is the basis for modern search engines. Jones has worked in automatic language and information processing research since the late 1950s, and has received several awards for her research including, the ACL Lifetime Achievement Award, the BCS Lovelace Medal and the ACM-AAAI Allen Newell Award. In her lifetime, she was an advocate for women to get involved in tech, stating, “I think it’s very important to get more women into computing. My slogan is: Computing is too important to be left to men.” She dedicated her life to research and continued to contribute to computer science until her death in 2007. We celebrate Karen Sparck-Jones, the Pioneer in Information Science!
Sister Mary Kenneth Keller was a Roman Catholic sister, educator and computer science leader. While she professed her vows with the Order of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, she was also known for her involvement and accomplishments in tech. She studied mathematics and physics and was the very first person to earn a Ph.D. in computer science in the United States. Sister Mary Kenneth Keller was a trailblazer and advocate for education. She was one of the founders of the Association of Small Computer Users in Education (ASCUE), an organization that advocates for the use of technology in education. One of her famous quotes is that “We’re having an information explosion . . . , and it’s certainly obvious that information is of no use unless it’s available.” With this ideology, Sister Keller worked tirelessly to expand the reach of computer science and computers. She believed that technology had the potential to serve as an instructive tool, and she worked to ensure equal access to computing for all. We celebrate Sister Mary Kenneth Keller!
The stories of these trailblazing women in tech make it evident that there is no rule book for what a woman in tech should be or should look like. Women who come from various backgrounds and possess a variety of talents, skills and interests can still make lasting impacts in the world of technology. All we have to do is ensure that women and girls have the right access to technology and they can forge their own paths in their own ways. Although Girls in ICT Day has already passed, we celebrate girls and women in tech all day, every day!