Recognising the hidden female pioneers in technology

23 June 2021

How many people have heard of Kathleen Booth or Margaret Hamilton? Chances are not many. But why not? These two women achieved two significant firsts. Kathleen invented the first assembly language and Margaret, the onboard flight software for NASA’s Apollo computers. In fact, there is a long list of unsung female pioneers in computing, past and present, that deserve to be celebrated for the instrumental contributions they have made to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Early pioneers 
  • Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852) published the first algorithm to be run on a machine and is regarded as one of the first computer programmers of our time. Icon has named its Architect’s Forum in honour of her.
  • Grace Hopper (1906 –1992) invented the first computer compiler.
  • Hedy Lamarr (1914 –2000) might be best known as a 1940’s movie star but few people are aware that she was also a self-taught science genius. In the Second World War, Hedy invented and patented a frequency-hopping spectrum technology for rocket guidance that became the foundation for the secure Wi-Fi we use today.
  • Joan Elisabeth Lowther Murray (1917 – 1996) was an English cryptanalyst and numismatist best known for her work as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park during the Second World War.
  • Katherine Johnson (1918 – 2020) was an American mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics, as a NASA employee, were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed space flights.
  • Kathleen Booth (1922) wrote the first assembly language and design of the assembler for the first ARC computers at Birkbeck college in London.
  • Evelyn Boyd Granville (born 1924) worked on various projects for the Apollo program, including celestial mechanics and trajectory computation.
  • Jean E. Sammet (1928 –2017) was one of the developers of the influential COBOL programming language.
  • Karen Spärck Jones (1935 – 2007) was a pioneering British computer scientist responsible for the concept of inverse document frequency, a technology that underlies most modern search engines.
  • Margaret Hamilton(born 1936) was responsible for the onboard flight software on the Apollo computers. Hamilton is also credited with coining the term ‘Software Engineering’.
  • in 1946, the six ‘ENIAC Women’, Fran Bilas, Jean Bartik, Ruth Lichterman, Kay McNulty, Betty Snyder, and Marlyn Wescoff, programmed the first all-electronic, programmable computer, the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer).
  • Sophie Mary Wilson (born 1957) was instrumental in designing the BBC Micro, including the BBC BASIC programming language whose development she led for the next 15 years. She first began designing the ARM reduced instruction set computer (RISC) in 1983, which is now the most widely used processor architecture in smartphones.
  • In 1959, computer scientist Mary K. Hawes identified the need for a common business language in accounting, which led to the development of COBOL.
  • Shafi Goldwasser born 1959 [with Silvio Micali] laid the foundations for modern cryptography, with contributions including interactive and zero-knowledge proofs.
Present day pioneers

Following the example led by these early pioneers, women have continued to influence and drive the technology and computing industry. Some of the largest technology companies in the world have female leaders. This includes CEO of YouTube, Susan Wojcicki, (who also helped to found Google), COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, and former President and CEO of IBM, Ginni Rometty, who started her career as a systems engineer and retired in December 2020 after 40 years with the company.

These are all remarkable women who join a long list of pioneering females leading the way in technology today:

  • Marissa Mayer was one of Google’s first employees, and its first female engineer. She went on to become CEO of Yahoo in 2012.
  • Susan Kare was the designer who helped bring the Apple computer to life alongside Steve Jobs. She is credited for sharing the Mac user interface.
  • Danah Boyd is the founder and president of Data & Society and a partner researcher at Microsoft. She founded her own research institute to address the ethical and legal implications of emerging technologies.
  • Fei-Fei Li is a pioneer of artificial intelligence and is the co-director of Stanford’s Human-Centered AI Institute.
  • Reshma Saujani is the founder and CEO of the nonprofit organization Girls Who Code. 
  • Kimberley Bryant is the founder and CEO of Black Girls Code.
Women at Icon

At Icon, we have women working across all levels in leading technology roles including our IPF Product Owners as well as Payments SMEs and Senior Architects. And we want to see more. We know that the most successful companies are the ones with the most diverse workforce and we are always looking for new talent to join us. If you want to work for an inclusive company that values the talent and contributions of all its employees, we’d love to hear from you.

Visit our careers page to learn more about job opportunities at Icon and get in touch today:

Tamsin Crossland