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Celebrating women in software engineering this National Coding Week

As of 2019, there are now over one million women working in core-STEM roles in the UK. Yet, did you know that women make up just 16.4% of total ICT professionals in this country?

Therefore, this National Coding Week (19-25 September 2022), I wanted to take the opportunity to look back through programming history and celebrate the incredible impact that some of the great female pioneers have had on this sector.

Ada Lovelace

No article could be complete without first considering Ada Lovelace. Born in 1845, Ada, the daughter of Poet Lord Byron, was an English writer and mathematician. Through her close friendship with Charles Babbage, the developer of the analytical engine computer, Ada wrote about how the engine could calculate numbers.

Introducing concepts of ‘loops’ and ‘subroutines’ places her as the earliest computer programmer. Ada’s contribution to this field is still honoured to this day.

The ENIAC programmers

The ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) was used during World War II to calculate the trajectory of artillery, as it was nearly 2.5 thousand times faster than human calculation.  The job of operating this ‘machine’ was given to six women: Frances Bilas, Jean Jennings, Ruth Lichterman, Kay McNulty, Betty Snyder and Marlyn Wescoff.

Originally recruited to the Army as female ‘computers’, these six women had to figure out how the machine worked and how to program it.  This was a process of equation analysis, patch cables and switches. 

Grace Hopper

All programming languages need to come from somewhere.  After World War II, Grace Hopper worked on many computer projects but also developed a tool to translate English into machine code – the first ‘complier’. This later inspired the development COBOL (COmmon Business Oriented Language), as well as other key advancements in programming.

Whilst we're on the topic – have you ever considered why we use the phrase ‘computer bug’? Well, after finding a moth stuck in a computer, Grace is said to have made up this phrase!

Margaret Hamilton and Mary Kenneth Keller

According to NASA, the term ‘software engineer’ was credited to Margaret Hamilton as being the first person to use it. In the 1960s, Margaret worked as a software developer on the Apollo 11 mission, designing the guidance software.

Also in the 1960s, Mary Kenneth Keller – the first female in the U.S.A to be awarded a PhD in Computer Science – helped develop BASIC, one of the main programming languages that helped to launch microcomputers.

Carol Shaw

Finally, if you are a gamer then be inspired by Carol Shaw – the first recorded female game programmer. Born in 1955, Carol worked for Atari and created many popular cartridge-based games, such as River Raid in 1982.  She later moved to Activision as an assembly language programmer, becoming their first female developer.

If these achievements have inspired you to consider a future career in software engineering, you can learn more about our Digital qualifications offering.


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