Wanted: Women Coders

Denise Roane

In the past few years, many sizable women’s movements such as the #metoo, equal pay, gender neutrality, and gender acceptance have taken center stage. They have been shedding light on some of the struggles women have faced over the years. Inside of these movements, lie many minor movements that (though not as heavily discussed) are just as important as those that are. One of these minor movements has been the push to get women to engage in jobs in computer science; a field they once dominated. In fact, it has only been over the past few decades (since the mid 1980’s) that the myth, men are better at computer programming than women, first became instilled in our psyche. However, historically, it was women who created the languages that even enabled computers to “speak” and “think”. Many of the most famous computer coders and programmers of our time were women. So, what happened? Two things. First, the coming of the personal computer. Second, a boy’s propensity to tinker.

With the introduction of the personal computer, boys now had a new gadget they could pull apart and examine; not necessarily a trait that was known to girls. This not only gave them a better concept of the inner mechanical workings of the machine, but also gave them the ability to diagnose and repair the apparatus. This skill instantly made them the “go-to” candidate for technological advice, thereby creating the illusion that men were better suited for the task.

However, overtime, that mentality has slowly dissipated as more women are acknowledged historically for their contributions and achievements in the field. Take for instance, Ada Lovelace (1815-1852). She was a woman who was not known or acknowledged for her accomplishment of being the first computer programmer in the world until the mid-1950’s; over a hundred years after her death. Today, she has been credited for being the first person to understand that numerical codes could be created to work with machines designed to calculate mathematics.

Since Ada, there have been many other outstanding woman coders who have not only created new languages but who were also considered experts in their fields. Two that come quickly to mind are Grace Hopper and Dorothy Vaughan. Grace Hopper (1906-1992) was a rear admiral in the United States Navy as well as a mathematician and a computer programmer. It was her work using words, rather than numbers, that led to the creation of COBOL and much of the computer language we use today. Dorothy Vaughan (1910-2008) was a mathematician hired as a computing unit supervisor for NASA. She became the foremost FORTRAN programming expert in the world.

With all of these great women to credit for our technological advancements, we are still faced with the fact that, in an industry our gender helped to build, we are still outnumbered at least ten to one by men. How can we change this? Through gaining an education in computer coding and having the tenacity to get out here and show the world what we are capable of. In this day and age when women are branching out and entering positions in industries previously thought to be closed to them, the computer coding industry is one that is in desperate need of their return.