Can’t Hold Us Down: Women Who Have Shaped the Tech World

May 9, 2016 by

Too often, history focuses on the contributions of men and not women, especially when their accomplishments are made in a traditionally male-dominated field. The tech workforce is a field in which women have made strides and significant contributions, but they rarely get the recognition they deserve. To acknowledge some of the groundbreaking work done by women in tech, I put together the following list. While certainly not exhaustive, this is a must-read introduction—because women and their achievements shouldn’t be overlooked.

  1. Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace

Most commonly known as the first computer programmer and the daughter of poet Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace, born 1815, was interested in science from a young age. According to Victoria Aurora, cofounder of the Ada Initiative, which supported women in tech until it closed down in 2015, “Lovelace is an unusual example of a woman for her time,” she told The New Yorker. “She was not only allowed to learn mathematics but encouraged to learn mathematics. She shows what women can do when given a chance.”

Working with the mathematician Charles Babbage, Lovelace contributed invaluable translations and notes to his work, which helped to separate computing from mathematics. She has been the subject of celebrationsand the U.S. Department of Defense named a software language after her.

  1. Grace Hopper

Grace Hopper

Another trailblazer in the world of computing is Grace Hopper, born in 1906, who was a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy and held a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale University. Some of Hopper’s achievements in techinclude: programming computers; developing validation for compilers; and advocating for computer programs to be written in English. She also pushed for more user-friendly technologies and personal computers. Among her many accolades, the biggest conference of women in technology is named after her: the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

  1. Anita Borg

Computer scientist Anita Borg, born 1949, was a longtime advocate for women in computing and, according to The New York Times, created an influential e-mail list for women to discuss technical topics. A co-founder of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, Borg also founded the Institute for Women and Technology. She obtained a Ph.D. from New York University.

  1. Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr

A Hollywood movie star during the industry’s “Golden Age,” Hedy Lamarr, born 1914, not only worked with legends including Lana Turner and Clark Gable, she also played an important role in developing wireless technology. As CNET reports, she “paved the way for Wi-Fi.” Lamarr put her technical skills to use working with George Antheil, a composer and inventor. Their work on frequencies for World War II torpedoes wasn’t used by the military, but their patent was later used by companies working on wireless technology; according to CNET, wireless tech—such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi—still use Lamarr’s process.

  1. The Women of ENIAC

During World War II, John Mauchly, a professor, and John Presper Eckert Jr., his genius lab assistant, gathered a team at the University of Pennsylvania to build ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), the first-ever programmable, electronic computer and a top-secret military project. On the team were six women: Jean Jennings, Marlyn Wescoff, Ruth Lichterman, Frances Bilas, Betty Snider and Kay McNulty. They participated in classified work, which included calculations for the atomic bomb, and played a crucial role in programming the computer.

  1. Edith Clarke

Edith Clarke, born in 1883, was an electrical engineer, and managed a group of women “computers” during World War I. She earned a master’s degree in 1919 in electrical engineering from MIT in, the first woman to do so at that school, and later became the first female electrical engineering professor in the United States, at the University of Texas. In addition, Clarke was the first woman elected a fellow to the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and was a recipient of the Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award.

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Photos via Wikimedia Commons

 Mariela Santos-Muniz Picture

Mariela Santos holds an MA in international relations and international communications from Boston University. To find links to her writing and more information, click here.

Edith Windsor Won Marriage Equality. Now She’s Helping Women Code

Edith Windsor

Edith Windsor took on the federal Defense of Marriage Act and won. Now, she’s fronting a campaign to help more queer-identifying women beat the odds and pursue tech careers.

Those familiar with LGBT rights will no doubt recognize Windsor as the lead plaintiff in Windsor v. United States, the Supreme Court case that granted same-gender couples the same federal marriage benefits as heterosexual couples.

Now, Windsor has a new cause.

There’s a severe lack of women in high profile science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs, despite the fact that women perform just as well as men and are equally qualified. And with additional factors, like sexual orientation and race, the barriers to breaking into the tech world can be significant.

Windsor partnered with the group Lesbians Who Tech to help change things. Lesbians Who Tech, founded by entrepreneur Leanne Pittsford, brings together queer women and allies in tech to forge a community and build visibility and opportunities for other women.

But what’s the connection with Edith Windsor? Well, Windsor once worked at IBM as a leading software engineer. She’s a self-described “woman who techs.”

Now, with the Edie Windsor Coding Scholarship Fund, the partnership hopes to raise $100k through a crowdfunding campaign. The goal is to send 11 to 15 lesbian or queer-identifying women — or more depending on how much they can raise — to the computer coding school or bootcamp of their choice.

Coding training is expensive. It usually costs at least $18K for entry level education. The fund will cover a minimum of 50 percent of each selected person’s initial tuition. In addition to that opportunity, Lesbians Who Tech pledges to offer life-long support through its network of mentors.

The initiative’s aim is to provide lesbian and queer-identifying women with the education they need to access tech and IT jobs. Hopefully, coding projects created by queer women will provide solutions for other overlooked women due to the over-representation of men in the profession.

The scholarship fund will be ongoing so that year after year, more women will be able to received coding training. And, perhaps, one day those same scholarship recipients can contribute to the fund.

In fact, Lesbians Who Tech already sent a handful of lesbian and queer-identifying women to coding school last year.

Here’s a video that discusses the overall aim of this scholarship program:

This fund could be particularly meaningful for queer women of color who — facing multiple barriers relating to their gender, sexuality and race — find they are often locked out of STEM professions.

Vanessa Newman of Lesbians Who Tech told the Huffington Post: “Imagine what apps and software would look like if they were made by women, queer women, women of color. Imagine how integrating that kind of inclusivity into [tech] would create a more inclusive, accessible society and tech industry for all of us. That’s why being able to fund and provide this type of opportunity for queer women to attend coding school is so important, if not vital. We literally have the power to change the face of tech, if we can lift each other up, over the privileges and barriers to entry that come with learning the essential skills.”

Edith Windsor History: Demolishing a Key Part of DOMA at the Supreme Court

Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer had a love affair that “just kept on and on.” As all things must, though, there did come an end. In 2009 Spyer died of complications related to a heart problem.

At the time, only a handful of states had recognized marriage equality, but Windsor and Spyer had entered into a domestic partnership in New York in 1993. In 2007 the couple traveled to Canada to enter into a marriage. That marriage was recognized in their state of New York as of 2008.

Even so, after Spyer’s death, Windsor was faced with high estate taxes because federal law treated her as if she was a legal stranger to Spyer. Windsor was prevented from accessing spousal benefits.

Windsor decided to fight that injustice. In 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the federal Defense of Marriage Act’s Section 3 was unlawful and placed unconstitutional burdens on Windsor, as well as other people in same-gender marriages.

This ruling opened up nearly all the federal benefits and responsibilities relating to marriage for same-gender couples. It also provided the groundwork for the 2015 Obergefell ruling that ultimately legalized marriage equality across the United Sates.

With this latest move, Edith Windsor shows she is as much a leader as ever. Together with Lesbians Who Tech, Windsor strives to help women become the innovation leaders they have dreamed of being.

Photo credit: David Bledsoe.

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I Am Alex St. John’s Daughter, and He Is Wrong About Women in Tech

Amilia St. John  April 21, 2016

My name is Amilia St. John and I am the daughter of Alex St. John. Yes, that one. For those not following the horrific toddler meltdown my father has been very publicly broadcasting over the past few days, here is a short summary: My father, a prominent figure in tech because he helped create the Microsoft DirectX technology platform, posted an article recently on Venturebeat claiming that:

“Many modern game developers have embraced a culture of victimology and a bad attitude toward their chosen vocations.”

and how

“[he] can’t begin to imagine how sheltered the lives of modern technology employees must be to think that any amount of hours they spend pushing a mouse around for a paycheck is really demanding strenuous work.”

It’s the usual self aggrandizing agenda that older generations like to pedal on days when they need to feed their superiority complexes. My father’s article led to a massive outcry from the gaming industry and a subsequent invasion of my father’s blog by the (rightfully) angry internet masses.

On the blog, they uncovered extremely distasteful recruiting slides and supplemental blogs with revolting opinions regarding women, minorities and the mentally handicapped in the tech industry. Since these findings, countless others and I have found ourselves at a loss for words how anyone, especially someone in a position of power, can think that it is acceptable to broadcast such offensive material.

As his toxic waste trash fire not only is associated with my last name but also my face, I felt compelled to respond to my father’s sexist, ableist, and racist rants.

(Important disclaimer: I have not lived with or near my father for many years and I lead an independent existence. I very strongly disagree with his opinions but have unfortunately ignored them for too many years.)

I am 22, a female, white and currently moonlighting as a “wage slave” (as my dad would call it). I work full-time in technical position (yes, a 9–5 and yes, I am never forced to put in overtime). One could say it is the sort of job that requires me to “move my mouse around a lot.” This can be particularly difficult when the “shackles of my gender” become too burdensome to bear.

Note the invisible chains that tie me to my desk.

But as a woman, to enter this privileged position in the first place I had to face a lot of difficult situations. (And no, none of those situations involved a wrestle with my “victim complex”.) The experience has left me with more than a few opinions about my father’s views on this subject (which are exceptionally vile and wrong).

(The important caveat to this mini age, sex, race debrief is that I cannot speak for the experience of other races, women (and men) in the tech industry. However, the disparity and the need for a change is clear. For an excellent perspective from a black woman in the industry, I highly recommend this article by Erika Joy.)

I wasn’t always going to enter tech. I only hammered that part down around a year ago, but the journey encompasses my entire life. Like my father, I dropped-out of the traditional education system. But unlike many women before me, I received exceptional mentoring and coaching from other technical women in the field and, as a result, I was able to persist in pursuing tech as a career. This access to mentoring is not an option for the majority of women entering tech, and I consider myself extremely lucky to have received it.

I entered tech for the following reasons:

  • My interest in the field of software development
  • ‘Dat Market / employability / livable wage
  • Because lots of people said I couldn’t
  • Because not enough women are involved in the tech field

The last reason is the most important and what I intend to discuss for the next several paragraphs. Women make up 29.1 percent of the tech industry, but only 16.6 percent of technical jobs. “Women in technology” is personal to me, and I feel it is my responsibility to share my experiences with other women. In a world where so many women are finally gaining the opportunity for a voice, the tech industry is quiet. And what my father seems to so fundamentally misunderstand is that this is NOT, as he insinuates, a result of women “claiming victimhood.”

(I will give credence to you that there MAY be a very small percentage of women who will perpetually victim-complex themselves out of difficult situations, but my only justification for that is the recent evidence brought to my attention that a percentage of men still believe all women are emotionally vulnerable, self-identified victims. If men like that exist, then perhaps less-than-ideal-women may exist, too.)

I will start with the root of the problem beginning in K-12 education. I was gifted at an early age with the amazing advantage of knowing that tech was an option in the first place. Not only did I know it was an option, I had many family members already working in tech, sharing tech and encouraging me to learn from them. Even so, I found it difficult to make the transition for, unsurprisingly, many of the reasons that plague women entering the industry. Sometimes not feeling intelligent enough, I could not find relatable peers to work with in my classes, and even if I did, purely academic relationships would often be misconstrued as ‘something more.’ Many attempts to solidify my path have resulted in open discouragement from both women and men alike. The worst part is that I have had it extremely easy compared to other women.

The majority of US K-12 schools do not even offer any computer science curriculum in the first place. In fact, only 5 percent of US high schools even offer the computer science AP exam in the first place. As a result, many women enter college without even considering computer science as an option, and may only choose to transition to the major after their freshman year. Even if they do eventually decide to switch majors, it can be difficult or nearly impossible to finish within four years as a late transit. Adding to this adversity, many women and minorities feel intense isolationwhen confronted with the hard reality that they do not fit in with their overwhelmingly male classmates. Worst of all, many women enter into CS majors only to find that they are already hopelessly behind as they discover that their male counterparts already know the material from tinkering in their childhoods. As a result, many women and minorities end up dropping out of the major altogether.

And I can draw the obvious conclusion of what my father would argue from here, allow me beat him to it. “Isolation is good for you, stop being a victim, tough it out”. While I agree that developing a thick skin is important, this isn’t an actionable solution to solve the problem shown by the statistics (although promising developments, are bubblingas the number of CS students at Stanford increases).

(Even if a woman does get thick skin, the joke is on them as woman’s perceived competency drops by 35 percent as soon as their colleagues start to feel that they are being “aggressive”.)

So let’s say a woman does successfully complete a CS degree and enter the career pipeline in the first place, and let’s pretend that her “self-imposed victim complex” doesn’t weed her out early. What happens to her next?

Unfortunately the prognosis remains bleak. After entering the field, women begin to get weeded out of engineering roles in favor of client-facing roles that “perfectly suit” their “stronger social skills.” In my father’s recruiting slides, he advocates for this exactly, quote:

“Technical women are often quickly promoted for a variety of reasons. Stronger social skills often make them better architects, technical writers, QA, or technical support people.”

(Dad, if you use my face in an offensive slideshow again I beg you to please at least throw me a bone and put in a more flattering picture. As a self absorbed millennial I have provided the internet with a profusion of selfies in a rainbow of sepia tones. Please choose any of those.)

Widely held beliefs like these are playing a huge role in hindering women from continuing as engineers. While many of these “more social” roles may be high paying, they remove truly technical women from technical jobs, furthering the imbalance. This directly impacts women later in their careersas it has been shown that technical positions are more likely to lead to senior roles in the industry. My father’s suggestion to continue the practice of “promoting” women out of engineering roles will only further reinforce gender norms in the workplace and ultimately harm the supply of senior female technical executives.

And finally, here we are at this written hemorrhoid from my father’s blog:

“Why do young white males tend to be the ones who pick up computers, teach themselves to code, start businesses in their basements with their friends and get rich? It’s an obvious opportunity to everybody isn’t it? If you are a different race, gender, or religion… what’s your excuse? I know of very very few successful bootstrapped tech companies founded by women or blacks.”

By posing an open-ended question, I suppose it’s easy to allow users to fill in the (rather insulting) gaps. My father’s own conclusion being that everyone who is not a white male has a victim complex and is allowing themselves to be held back. It is very convenient to pretend that the reason white males are so successful is because they are the self-starters, geared toward success, etc., while everyone else is simply too lazy, apathetic and whiny to make something of themselves. By pretending this, he shields himself from all of the realities that put white males in a position of power in the first place.

Perhaps rather than pointing out the disparity and using it as an opportunity to belittle and insult ~64 percent of the US population, my father could use this insight as a springboard to reach a more obvious conclusion: Why haven’t people like him used their positions of privilege to help solve the problem? Maybe their attitudes are partially (entirely) to blame?

Consider that as many as 50 percent of women working in STEM fields have chosen to leave over the past decade as a result of hostile, unwelcoming work environments. Rather than telling these women to buck up, suffer in silence and keep working, it would be more effective to address the root of the proverbial elephant in the room: The men (and sometimes women) who believe what people like my father are spewing, and regurgitate it at their female counterparts. The real crux of the issue is that by propagating this offensive ideology (even if it could be just my father trying to get his jollies by instigated fights with everyone on the internet), he is feeding the fire for the dull brained Neanderthals in the industry who actually are anti-women to continue propagating these practices.

And it is from here that I beg my father, for the love of his daughters, to stop hindering our progress as women in the industry and start using his influence to promote positive experiences for minorities in tech.

(And to stop promoting abuse and exploitation of people with Aspergers. And also to stop being an obnoxious lunatic.)

Suppose he does not. Given my allegedly inflexible millennial tendencies and gender inherited victim complex, I have no doubt I will eventually give up on tech and be forced to move in to his home (I hope he has space) where I intend to start my dream blog about the college tuition bubble and how baby boomers ruined our economy.

If you are an individual interested in furthering the fight to improve ratios for women and minorities in the industry, there are so many opportunities to get involved! Start a female and minority hackathon, volunteer to mentor young women and minorities in computer science, or even just start by learning more.

Here is a (short) list of other resources to get you started:

Girls Who Code: An excellent nonprofit with a focus on teaching women k-12 how to code. They make it relatively easy to start (or join) a group in your area!

Code 2040: An awesome site with a focus on blacks and latinos in the coding industry

2020 Shift: Focus on minorities in hybrid careers in the tech business. I love this website because it is all about entering the tech world if you ARE NOT in a technical career.

Code Academy: A great start to dive in to the basics of coding.

Scratch from MIT: This is an amazing tool for young children learning how to code. It teaches children to think logically while removing the syntax hurdles.

Some killer tech giants who are making a difference.

Grace Hopper Conference: Grace Hopper is a female and minority focused conference. I have unfortunately never had the opportunity to go but I constantly hear what an amazing experience it is. Students can earn scholarships to finance their trip.

Codepen: This site is a personal favorite tool. It is such a fun playground for front end development. It allows you code while simultaneously working with HTML, CSS and Javascript and it is so flexible. It is all buffed out with preprocessors galore.

This Cringe Worthy Email From A Recruiter Shows The Daily Nightmare Faced By Women In IT



This is not a come-on between two users of an internet dating site, but a genuine first approach by a male IT recruitment consultant, to a female software developer.  It neatly sums up the daily nightmare of sexism faced by women in the world of IT.

The recruiter opens his email,  entitled “are you for real???” as follows:

“I want to start by asking if you are a real developer? Lol, sorry if that rubs you the wrong way but you are a beautiful well educated young woman whose professional career is in software development.”

Because of course, how could a pretty little thing like her possibly know her Java from her SPARK (programming languages, keep up people)?

The cringe worthy approach was made through professional networking site LinkedIn.  Rather than fuming silently, the woman in question  posted a screenshot of the creepy message to the WebDev thread on Reddit on the 29th August – where it quickly went viral.

Users were quick to empathize with the woman’s experience, and share equally nonsensical experiences of their own.

“OMG a Unicorn!”


“Hey Phil!”


“An insult wrapped in a compliment”

A003 - Copy

And therein lays the sexism problem here.  No doubt, there are people reading this now thinking ‘I don’t get it! The guy just totally paid her a compliment, what’s all the fuss about?”

To those people: being gobsmacked that a woman is able to code is not a compliment. It’s like applauding a dog for walking on its hind legs, then throwing it a biscuit.  She is an intelligent, educated professional and should be approached with the same respect, esteem and professionalism as her male counterparts.

Imagine if the email was to a man of color?

“I want to start by asking if you are a real developer? Lol, sorry if that rubs you the wrong way but you are a handsome well educated black man whose professional career is in software development.”

See now?

It’s not a compliment.

Neither should women have to laugh this kind of stuff off.  Each instance of this should be highlighted and dealt with, forcefully.  It is not OK for recruiters to creep up on female IT professionals with all the class of a gin joint letch.

While women make up around 49% of the total workforce, they make up just 17% of the people working in technology.

But work is underway to level the playing field.

Firstly, from within individual companies.

Progressive organizations like FDM Group, are getting real about the gender imbalance and acting to make things better.

Secondly, women are organizing to level the playing field themselves.

Groups like Women In Technology International (WITI), the world’s leading trade association for tech-savvy women. Today, WITI is “the premiere global organization empowering women in business and technology to achieve unimagined possibilities.”

If you’re tired of hearing about sexism in the workplace, then imagine how tired women are of dealing with it day-in, day-out. It’s time for us all to take personal responsibility about the way we deal with professional and personal relationships, to make sure we part of the solution and not the problem.