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Nov 16, 2018 · 8 min read

Technology and finance have a reputation for being male dominant, but women have played a crucial role. We will be starting our Women in Fintech series that will be released monthly on the STK Medium blog. Through this series we will profile women in the industry, by sharing their unique stories, accomplishments and obstacles they face. We want to celebrate each woman’s accomplishments in the workplace well as open the conversation about their challenges. Through this series, we hope to inspire our readers with each woman’s journey and story. To kick off the series, we are profiling who we believe to be three influential women who pioneered the way for today’s women in tech.

At STK, we are running our own hackathon, Stackathon, which is a female-run blockchain hackathon in the Distillery District in Toronto. We are trying to bring together a Toronto blockchain developer community, in hopes of introducing more females in blockchain. We are also looking into running blockchain education in high schools, which will inspire the next generation of developers in computing.

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace (December 10 1815 — November 27 1852) was an English mathematician and writer. While she was ill for the majority of her childhood, she worked on developing her technological and mathematical skills — including building a prototype of a flying machine, which was the official predecessor to the aerial steam carriage.

Accomplishments: Lovelace worked closely with Charles Babbage, working on the first implementation of an analytical engine, which could calculate distinguished and complicated calculations — one of the first computers to allow looping and branching. Ada Lovelace wrote the first program to translate Italian manuscripts, which in future would be useful for Alan Turing in building the enigma machine, one of the keys to ending World War 2. At the time, Lovelace’s study of numbers on the engine made her realize that she could build out the manipulation of symbols as well. She invented symbolic logic, which would allow computers to run independent of human input, which at the time, was unheard of. Ada Lovelace’s drive for new knowledge helped the invention of the aerial steam carriage, the first multi-use computer (aside from mathematics), and helped tremendously with the Enigma Machine.

Excelling: Ada Lovelace excelled and pushed forward mathematical and technological thinking, at a time where women were never really working outside of the house, as they were expected to do housework. She made massive technological achievements at a time where she was plagued with misogyny throughout society. In many famous old literature, males had much richer character development plots than females, which mirrored the general view of females in the world at that time. Below, is a quote from Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, featuring Prince Andrei’s view on females:

“If only you know what all these fine ladies, indeed women in general, amount to! My father is right. Selfish, vain, humdrum, trivial in everything — that’s what are when they show themselves in their true colours! When you see them in society, you might fancy they had something in them, but there is nothing, nothing, nothing!” — Prince Andrei

Influence: Lovelace managed to not only step past the sexism that was prevalent in the society, she was able to move past it and excel tremendously. She has been an inspiration for many, as a female in tech, who has achieved greatness.

“When I was in high school, I was struggling with imposter syndrome all the time, despite understanding course concepts, and being able to create monopoly using Java and JUnit. Personally, I wish every elementary, middle, and high school student would talk about the history of computing, and give Lovelace the recognition she deserves as the first programmer in the world. I doubt she thought she would be inspiring young female developers 170 years after her death. We continue the fight on her behalf for female representation throughout the workplace.” — Nat Chin

Grace Hopper

Grace Hopper (December 9, 1906 — January 1, 1992) was an American computer scientist and United States Rear Admiral. She was a pioneer in computer programming who worked on many notable projects for the Navy. Her first programming job was in 1944 when she worked with the Harvard Mark I, Von Neumann’s sequential control computer, successor to Babbage’s analytical engine. Grace retired from the Navy in 1986, after being asked to return to active duty multiple times. Even in her retirement she worked as a full-time consultant for the Digital Equipment Corporation. She was often referred to ‘Amazing Grace’ due to her accomplishments & naval rank and as ‘Grandma COBOL’ for her lively & irreverent speaking style at computer-related events.

Accomplishments: Hopper was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I and was part of the team at Eckert–Mauchly that developed the UNIVAC I computer. While at Eckert–Mauchly, she invented one of the first compiler related tools which converted English terms into machine code understood by computers. In 1954, she led the released of some of the first compiled languages like FLOW-MATIC. She consulted and participated in the CODASYL consortium in 1959, to create a machine-independent programming language, leading to the COBOL language.

The USS Hopper guided missile destroyer and Cray XE6 “Hopper” supercomputer at NERSC were named after her. Hopper was awarded 40 honorary degrees from universities across the world, received 9 awards from the Navy Reserves and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2016.

Obstacles: Grace Hopper attempted to enlist in the Navy in World War II but was rejected for multiple reasons; because she was too old to enlist at the age of 34 and again at 38, her weight to height ratio was too low and on the basis that her job as a mathematician and mathematics professor at Vassar College was valuable to the war effort. To overcome this roadblock, she obtained a leave of absence from Vassar and was sworn into the United States Navy Reserve.

At the time, computers were very similar to that of Lovelace’s time — they could only do arithmetic. COBOL, an early high-level programming language that defined much of large bank’s codebase, came from the belief that a programming language based on English was possible. Hopper stated that very few people and data processors are symbol manipulators, otherwise they would be mathematicians; so data processors ought to be able to write their own programs in English. Despite the skepticism in the beginning, she popularized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, leading to the development of COBOL.

Influence: Grace Hopper was influential because of her push for more women to enter and stay in the tech field. Her strength and drive were extremely admirable, by not allowing her rejection from the Navy so stop her from pursuing and stay committed to her work. The iconic projects she worked on in the Navy Reserve and call back to duty from retirement was a testament to her work and contribution to technological advances. Her work laid down the foundation for many programming languages, and rightfully recognized by many institutions, including Yale University, which named Hopper College in her honour. — Hai Ha N.

Anita Borg

Anita Borg (January 17, 1949 — April 6, 2003) was recognized for her accomplishments as a computer scientist and advocacy for greater representation of women in computing. Her goal was to have 50% representation for women in computing by 2020. She loved math growing up but did not intend to get into computer science. Borg taught herself how to code while working at an insurance company, and landed her first programming job in 1969. After receiving her PhD, Anita worked at Auragen Systems Corp and then with Nixdorf Computer before moving onto Digital Equipment Corporation from 1986–1997. After the Digital Equipment Corporation, Borg began working as a researcher in the Office of the Chief Technology Officer at Xerox PARC and soon after founded the Institute for Women and Technology, later renamed to the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology in her honour.

Accomplishments: While at the Digital Equipment Corporation, Borg developed and patented a method for generating complete address traces for analyzing and designing high-speed memory systems. Her experience running the ever-expanding Systers mailing list, founded in 1987, led to her work in email communication. As a consulting engineer under Brian Reid, she developed MECCA, an email and web-based system for communicating in virtual communities. Borg also developed Systers, the first email network for women in technology, which she oversaw up until 2000.

While Borg was attending the Symposium on Operating Systems Principles, she was was struck by how few women attended the conference. A dozen of the women at the conference made plans to eat lunch together, where the Systers was formed. The membership was limited to women with highly technical training and discussions were strictly confined to technical issues. In 1994, Anita Borg and Telley Whitney created a conference by and for women computer scientists, the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, which brought together 500 technical women. In 1995, she received the Augusta Ada Lovelace Award from the Association for Women in Computing for her work on behalf of women in the computing field. Borg is but one of the many women who continues the fight.

Helping Other Women Overcome Obstacles: Although Systers was predominantly confined to technical issues, it also helped tackle problems that pertain to its members outside of the technical realm, such as influence the removal of one of Mattel’s Barbie’s lines, “math class is hard” from itsone of which was to increase the representation of women in computing. Through Systers, the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference and Institute for Women and Technology, Borg provided a space for other women in the field to share their ideas & work, seek input and share advice based on their common experiences.

Influence: Anita Borg is inspiring and influential because she was a pillar of strength for women in computing and technology which is male dominant. She strove for equal representation at all levels of the pipeline in technology and a leader in bringing women in technology together. The many awards that she received reflected the passion and impact of her work. — Hai Ha N.

Now that you know three women we find influential, we want to know who you find influential in your industry? Leave your comments below and tune in next month for our next instalment.

Resources:

  1. http://www.computerhistory.org/babbage/adalovelace/
  2. https://findingada.com/shop/a-passion-for-science-stories-of-discovery-and-invention/ada-lovelace-victorian-computing-visionary/
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Hopper
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anita_Borg
  5. The Internet

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