Where have the woman of tech history gone

First talk of this year’s FOSDEM (not counting the opening talk).

Talk by Laura Durieux (see the link at the References at the bottom of the page for more details).

The talk started with the question why women were underrepresented in the syllabus. This lead to the question why there is a focus on men, and who decides what makes it to the syllabus.

‘Computer’ was a job. A mathematical profession.

Nicole-Reine Lepaute, one of the first mentioned women in the literature. Calculated the return of the Haley’s comet.

In the 19th century women were forced to resign when they got married.

Ada Lovelace, was famous for her notes on the Analytic Engine. She wrote the first algorithm. Laura considers her the mother of computer science.

Annie Jump Cannon, developed a method for classifying starts, which is still used today. She classified 5.000 stars per month.

Grete Herman pioneered in quantum mechanics.

Between the ’40s and ’70s women were widely hired as coders. No certification required, and a shortage of manpower.

Eniac girls, the operators of computers. Early ancestors of debuggers. The hardware was a man’s job. However, as operators women needed to have an in-depth knowledge of the hardware. These girls had a mathemetics degree in common. The machines were really a bunch of cables. And these women at times needed to figure out where a bug (in the mess of cables) would be.

Hedy Lamarr, invented FHSS. Technology still used in Wi-FI and Bluetooth. A renowned movie star. Quite an unusual career change.

In the ’50s the stereo types of male programmers emerged.

Grace Hopper, known as the queen of software, created the compiler in 1949. One of the main creators of the COBOL language.

After the ‘60 there was a decline in the number of women majoring in computer science.

In the ’80s with the introduction of the personal computer the idea that to be a programmer you needed countless hours in front of a computer screen emerged. Pc’s were typically put in the son’s room with the father as the coach. Really focussed on the males rather than the women.

Karen Spark Jones developed the TF-IDF method. Used by most search engines. As the method shows which keywords are important from a corpus. She also had the quote that ‘computing is much too important to be left to men’.


Laura gave a nice overview of the women in computer science history. Everyone in computer science should see such a talk as women have played a major role in the history of computing. It may make the IT field more acceptable to women. And on the other side, if women in general learn more about this kind of history more women may consider a career in the IT field.


Where have the women of tech history gone?