6 female tech pioneers who transformed their industries

To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8th March, we’re saluting six inspiring women who shaped and re-shaped their respective industries, past pioneers and innovators who turned modern business on its head.


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Although technology is still a sector where gender imbalance is felt, the legacies created by these incredible women all made an impact that remains as strong as ever. Here, we present six female tech pioneers who transformed their industries.

Ada Lovelace

In her capacity as the world’s first computer programmer, this list wouldn’t be complete without Ada Lovelace, world-renowned for publishing the first algorithm ultimately carried out by the pioneering Analytical Engine.

Although created by Charles Babbage as a means of counting numbers, Lovelace recognised the potential for the computer beyond basic mathematics. In her work for Babbage, she supplemented work for him with an elaborate set of notes containing what many consider the first computer program, i.e. an algorithm to be carried out by a machine.

Whilst contemporary recognition was slim, her work came to be highly regarded, influencing modern computer science and the technology industry from the 1950s. 

 

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Sheryl Sandberg

Having previously worked for Google, Sandberg is currently the chief operating officer at Facebook. One of the many women shaking up the tech scene, Sandberg authored Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, a look at women in the workplace that has sold over two million copies since its release.

As well as creating the Lean In Foundation, a non-profit organisation started with the aim of inspiring women to help them achieve their goals, Sandberg was also included in Time’s 100 most powerful people in 2012.

Grace Hopper

Bestowed with a number of nicknames, including the Queen of Software, Amazing Grace and Grandma COBOL, Hopper has some serious credentials, including a legacy that still has its fair share of followers today.

A pioneer in the field of computer programming, Hopper’s work ultimately led to the creation of the Common Business Oriented (COBOL) Language. Before this, computers spoke only in binary, an impenetrably difficult language that Hopper felt was very off-putting to newcomers. She theorised if more people could read programming, more people would be able to program. Not only was she right, but many of the programming languages she helped create are still being used by government agencies and leading IT companies to modernise their systems.

Susan Kare

All your favourite Apple products owe a debt of gratitude to Kare, the designer who helped shape the way Apple computers look with her now-iconic design skills. The familiar interface elements of the Mac, including its command icon, the Happy Mac icon that greeted Apple users when they booted up their machines, and the trash can icon were all created by Kare.

 

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A pixel art pioneer, Kare’s efforts helped usher in Apple’s use of the point-and-click computer, turning the machine into an easily accessible, personable device you could learn how to use in 20 minutes or so. Not content with the fruits of her labour at Apple, Kare moved onto Microsoft, helping to make the Windows 3.0 operating system more user-friendly, before a stint with Facebook showed off her skills once more.

Hedy Lamarr

Hollywood star, screen siren and frequency-hopping, torpedo-countering… inventor? It almost sounds like something out of Tinseltown itself, but Hedy Lamarr’s CV included films and a pioneering WW2 war effort.

Drafted into the war effort at the beginning of WWII, Lamarr was integral to the invention of spread-spectrum technology and frequency hopping, a method of sending radio signals from different frequency channels.

Along with co-inventor, George Antheil, the technology stopped messages from being easily intercepted, so outside agents couldn’t understand what was being communicated, basically encrypting the audio from enemies.

 

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Radia Perlman

Referred to as the ‘mother of the internet’, Perlman invented the ‘spanning-tree protocol’, an Ethernet technology that allows for the creation of huge networks by creating a mesh network of layer-2 bridges and then disabling the links that aren’t part of that tree. It sounds complicated, and it is, but Perlman’s work helped to make the internet a more streamlined, robust experience.

With more than 100 patents to her name, Perlman remains modest about the grand title she’s been bestowed. Even so, her work has been awarded with numerous honours, including the 2004 Inventor of the Year and one of the 20 most influential people in information technology by Data Communications Magazine, in both its 20th and 25th-anniversary editions.

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