The internet has grown significantly since it was first invented. Part of this growth, development and history involves incredible women who were instrumental in creating the greatest tool we have at our disposal today. Here are some of the women behind the internet.
Ada Lovelace, the daughter of acclaimed poet Lord Byron, is though to be the world’s first computer programmer. She translated the notes of Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea to French. These were then used by inventor Charles Babbage, who originated the idea of the digital programmed computer. She drafted the first computer programme that was used by Babbage’s Analytical Engine used to calculate Bernoulli numbers.
Six female mathematicians, who were working on a US Army project in 1945, programmed the first all-electric digital computer. Sort of the first software engineers, Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli, Frances Bilas Spence, Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, Frances Snyder Holbertson and Betty Jennings Bartik created a way to write a program and feed it into the computer. This was not surprising as women were often given the programming jobs in the early days of computers as men were more interested and assigned to building hardware. Despite creating the backbone of software development, when interviewed at the time the women’s names were not even mentioned in the news reports.
You might have seen her depiction in the movie Hidden Figures as the human computer who saw the need for someone to be able to program the new digital computers being installed at NASA (then called NACA). This depiction is not far off the truth. Dorothy worked at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in 1943 as a human programmer during WWII. In 1949, she was promoted to lead the West Computing department, a group of African American computers. She later became a skilled FORTRAN programmer and used her high positions to help other women succeed in the field.
Have any idea where the term “bug” in computing came from? Well it was Grace Hopper. This US Navy Rear Admiral and mathematician coined the term when she was working on the Mark series of computers at Harvard University’s Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project and a moth infiltrated the hardware on the Mark 1 machine.
She also worked on the UNIVAC I, the first commercial all-electronic digital computer. But Grace’s most well-known achievement was working on compliers, software that translates programming languages into code, thus making programming more accessible. This way, it was not necessary to write out lines of binary code but rather translated those into easy-to-understand languages which have grown and advanced to the ones we know today like Java, R and C++.
Hedy Lamarr is known as one of the most beautiful women in history and was a well-known actress. But, she is also one of the investors of a patent for a system that changed radio frequencies to stop enemies from decoding messages during the second world war. This became known as “frequency hopping” and became a vital first step in the development of technology for military communications, cell phones and WiFi in an effort to keep enemies from decoding messages being sent to and from the front lines. The Secret Communications system Hedy championed would be an important step in the development of security technology military communications and cell phones.
Jean was an early computer programmer known for developing key programming languages. These included the business-centric programming language COBOL and FORMAC, an important programming language and symbolic mathematics system.
Elise Gerich was instrumental in expanding the T-1 and T-3 backbones of the NSFNET, an early networking system and predecessor to the internet. She then helped transition from NFSNET to Internet Service Providers eventually working at Excite@ Home Network which was one of the first companies to introduce high-speed cable internet around the world.
Elizabeth “Jake” Feinler
Elizabeth was part of the team who created the domain-naming system which we use today (.com, .co.za, .org). Her and the team were also responsible for creating the first “white and “yellow” page serves. This is where people searched for domain names, before the invention of Google. They ran the Host Naming Registry, which regulated internet addresses.
Sometimes called the “Mother of the Internet”, Radia Perlman wrote the algorithm that has made the internet as vast as it is today. Previously, it could only connect with a small number of organisations but Perlmans Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) allowed more devices and organisations to connect to she other.
Anne-Marie Eklund Löwinder
Since most of the world has access to the internet, security online has become of significant concern. Anne-Marie helped develop systems to ensure website being accessed are secure and the development of the Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC). She is one of only seven people who control the DNSSEC key generation for the internet root zone, which is in control of security on the internet.
As this incredible technology grows and branches off into new exciting ventures, we are sure to see more women pioneer these innovations like their predecessors before them.