Throughout history, women’s roles in tech have often been overshadowed due to gender inequality. Thanks to many trailblazers in the technology sector, there is a powerful movement in modern tech companies to celebrate the revolutionary work women have been doing in our industry for years. This Mother’s Day, we want to spotlight ten mothers whose advancements changed the path of modern communications technology forever.
1. Ada Lovelace (1815-1852)
Ada Lovelace was a pioneer in the field of technology and a true visionary in her time. She was the daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron, but her interests lay in the emerging field of mathematics and science. She is widely regarded as the world’s first computer programmer, having worked closely with Charles Babbage on his famous Analytical Engine in the mid-1800s. Lovelace was responsible for writing the first algorithm for the machine, and she envisioned its potential far beyond mere calculation.
Lovelace’s contributions laid the foundation for modern computing. Her insights into the potential of computers to create art and music and even to develop artificial intelligence were far ahead of her time. Lovelace’s legacy continues to inspire new generations of women in technology, and her name is now synonymous with innovation and creativity.
2. Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000)
Hedy Lamarr, best known for her glamorous Hollywood career during the 1930s and 40s, is often overlooked for her contributions to technology. However, Lamarr was much more than an entertainer. She was also an inventor and helped develop a technology that would eventually lead to modern-day Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. In 1942, during World War II, Lamarr and composer George Antheil invented a frequency hopping system designed to help prevent enemy ships from jamming torpedo control signals.
Lamarr and Antheil’s invention involved using a piano roll to rapidly change the frequency of radio signals, making it much more difficult for enemies to intercept and jam them. While the US Navy initially rejected the idea, it was eventually incorporated into military technology during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. However, it wasn’t until the 1990s that the technology was adapted for use in modern-day Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices.
3. Jean Bartik (1924-2011)
Jean Bartik pioneered computer programming and made significant contributions to the development of modern computing technology. She was one of the first programmers of the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), one of the earliest electronic general-purpose computers. Bartik was part of a team of women recruited to work on the ENIAC during World War II, and she quickly became one of the most skilled programmers on the team.
Bartik’s contributions to the ENIAC project were vast, and she worked tirelessly to help refine and improve the computer’s capabilities. Bartik’s work on the ENIAC project became the foundation for modern programming. She was responsible for writing programs that allowed the ENIAC to perform complex mathematical calculations essential for various military applications.
4. Dr. Erna Schneider Hoover (1926)
Dr. Erna Schneider Hoover is known for her groundbreaking contributions to computer programming and telecommunications. Dr. Hoover grew up passionate about mathematics and science and earned her Ph.D. in philosophy from Yale University in 1951.
During her hospital stay after giving birth to one of her three daughters, Hoover brainstormed the initial sketches for her groundbreaking telecommunications system. Bell Labs was facing difficulties in managing the overwhelming number of calls they received and were seeking a more advanced solution to replace their outdated hard-wired and mechanical switching equipment. Hoover’s ingenious idea involved using a computer to monitor call frequency at different times, enabling the adjustment of call acceptance rates as required. Leveraging her expertise in intricate computer programming, Hoover effectively implemented her groundbreaking telecommunications technology. Dr. Hoover’s switching system is still widely used today.
5. Barbara Liskov (1939)
Barbara Liskov is a renowned computer scientist and a pioneer in the field of programming languages. Barbara completed her Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley. Liskov then became one of the first women to earn a Ph.D. in Computer Science in the U.S. from Stanford University. She is best known for her contributions to developing programming languages, including creating the Liskov substitution principle, a fundamental concept in object-oriented programming.
Barbara Liskov developed programming languages, such as CLU; Argus, and Thor, as well as the Venus Operating System. Her research has focused on developing techniques for proving the correctness of programs, and she has made significant contributions to distributed systems.
In 2008, Barbara Liskov received the Turing Award, considered the highest honor in computer science. She was the first woman to receive this prestigious award, recognizing individuals who contributed significantly to computer science.
6. Adele Goldberg (1945)
Adele Goldberg is highly regarded for her contributions to developing the programming language Smalltalk and the graphical user interface (GUI) that is commonly used in modern computer systems. Goldberg was part of the research team at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in the 1970s that developed the basis for the Apple Macintosh desktop environment.
Goldberg’s work on Smalltalk was designed to be simple and easy to use, making it accessible to a wide range of users. Goldberg’s work on GUI was equally groundbreaking as it revolutionized the way people interacted with computers. The GUI enabled users to navigate complex computer systems using graphical icons and menus rather than typing in complex computer commands.
Her efforts have helped to make computers more accessible and user-friendly, making it possible for more people to use technology in their daily lives.
7. Radia Perlman (1951)
Radia Perlman earned her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She is best known for inventing the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP), a key algorithm used in computer networking. Perlman’s invention revolutionized computer networking by enabling the creation of large and complex networks that are both reliable and scalable.
In addition to her work on STP, she has published numerous research papers on network security, routing protocols, and network management. Perlman is also known for her work on creating the TRILL protocol, which stands for Transparent Interconnection of Lots of Links. This protocol is designed to improve the efficiency and scalability of large-scale networks and is considered an internet standard.
Perlman is widely recognized as one of her generation’s most influential computer scientists. She has received numerous awards and honors for her contributions to technology, including the Association for Computing Machinery’s (ACM) prestigious Grace Murray Hopper Award. Perlman’s impact on the world of technology is truly immeasurable, and her work continues to inspire and inform the next generation of computer scientists.
8. Susan Kare (1954)
Susan Kare is a graphic designer who has significantly contributed to the development of personal computers and the user interface.
Kare is best known for her work on the original Macintosh, where she designed several of the computer’s icons, including the trash can, the paintbrush, and the happy and sad Mac icons. Her work on the Macintosh helped to establish a new standard for personal computing and user interface design.
In addition to her work on the Macintosh, Kare has also contributed to designing several other technology products, including the Microsoft Windows operating system, the Facebook gift shop, and the IBM ThinkPad.
Kare’s contributions to technology have significantly impacted how we interact with computers and other digital devices. Her designs are functional and aesthetically pleasing, making technology more accessible and user-friendly for people of all ages and backgrounds.
9. Reshma Saujani (1975)
Reshma Saujani is a well-known tech industry figure known for her trailblazing efforts in promoting gender equity and diversity in technology. Through her non-profit organization, Girls Who Code, she has inspired and empowered thousands of young girls to pursue careers in technology and coding.
Saujani’s commitment to promoting STEM education and coding skills among girls is rooted in her belief that technology is a crucial driver of innovation and growth in the 21st-century economy. Through mentorship programs, coding classes, and other initiatives, Saujani has helped create a new generation of tech-savvy young women poised to make their mark on the industry.
Through her work with Girls Who Code, her books and speeches, and her advocacy for gender equity in the tech industry, she has become a leading voice in the field of technology and a role model for young girls everywhere.
10. Dr. Fei Fei Li (1976)
Dr. Fei Fei Li is a renowned computer scientist and an expert in the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Dr. Li is best known for her work on ImageNet, a large-scale image recognition project that has revolutionized computer vision. She and her team developed algorithms that enabled computers to recognize and accurately categorize images. This breakthrough has significantly impacted fields ranging from healthcare to self-driving cars.
In addition to her work on ImageNet, Dr. Li has significantly contributed to developing machine learning algorithms that can learn from human behavior. These algorithms could revolutionize how we interact with technology, making it more intuitive and personalized.
Bonus 11. Eva Duckworth (1943)
Eva Duckworth is the mother of Optus’ Founder and Chief Customer Officer, Mark Duckworth. Eva helped build the foundation of our 30+ year legacy of delivering cutting-edge, customer-first IT solutions. Eva Duckworth was an educator prior to her work with Optus, where she served for over 20 years. Eva retired as our Chief Financial Officer in 2010 but continued to work at Optus part-time for several years afterward. Eva had a special knack for balancing Optus’ entrepreneurial spirit with a strategic mindset, which helped create the unique balance of support services and product offerings that Optus delivers today.
Resources for Moms in Tech
While women still only hold 26.7% of jobs in tech, there are several resources available to assist moms in overcoming some of the obstacles when developing a career in technology. Additionally, many tech companies (such as Optus) offer programs and initiatives to support mothers in the workplace. These programs can include flexible work arrangements, on-site training, career planning, mentorship opportunities, tuition reimbursement, and more.
Check out these resources for moms in tech:
Black Women in Tech to Follow on Twitter
Women in Communications and Technology
Women in Technology Slack group
Celebrate your next Mother’s Day with Optus.
Are you a mother interested in starting or continuing your tech career? Optus is dedicated to creating a diverse and equitable community. Learn more about working at Optus.