Today marks International Women’s Day, an international celebration of the outstanding social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender equity and highlighting continuing issues of inequality, discrimination, and bias.
Women have always made significant contributions to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) spanning from the 18th century to the present day. But their achievements have often been overlooked, undervalued, and underestimated. By highlighting the achievements of past and present women in technology, we hope to inspire future female innovators.
From GPS to virtual reality, here are 5 women whose contributions made an undeniable impact in the technology industry.
This list is not even close to extensive, there are countless women who’ve made outstanding contributions in the field of STEM. After reading this blog, check out Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World.
Ada Lovelace: The first computer programmer
Did you know the world’s first computer programmer was a woman? Ada Lovelace was a gifted mathematician and intellectual who wrote and published the first ever computer program. She worked with Charles Babbage on the design of his analytical engine, a precursor to the modern computer.
Computer programming as we know it today is possible because of leaders like Ada Lovelace, whose contributions empower our innovation today. Since 2009, her life has been celebrated through an annual event on the 2nd Tuesday of October, Ada Lovelace Day.
Dr. Grace Hopper: Military leader, mathematician and computer scientist
Dr. Grace Hopper is best known as the "Queen of Code." A military leader, mathematician, and computer scientist, she helped build Mark I, one of the world’s earliest computers. Dr. Hopper is also credited with creating the first compiler, a tool that converts programming languages that can be read by humans into machine code. Hopper was also instrumental in the development of COBOL, one of the first high-level programming languages.
Dr. Gladys West: GPS pioneer and mathematician
If you use your GPS for directions, you can thank Dr. Gladys West, the "Mother of GPS." She created a detailed geodetic model of the Earth, which became the foundation for one of the most widely used inventions - GPS, the global positioning system.
In 1956, Gladys was hired as a mathematician by the U.S. Naval weapons laboratory, as their fourth Black employee. She solved complex mathematical equations by hand and eventually transitioned to programming computers to solve those equations for her. In the early 1960s, Dr. West was involved in an award-winning astronomical study that showed how Pluto moved in relation to Neptune, and she was recommended as project manager for the Seasat radar altimetry project. On the Seasat project, she worked on satellite modelling of the globe and created an extremely precise geodetic model of the Earth. Her model laid the foundation for the GPS satellite system we use today.
Dr. Fei-Fei Li: AI pioneer, computer scientist, Stanford professor
Dr. Fei-Fei Li is an unprecedented thought leader in AI. She is the lead inventor of ImageNet, the dataset that enabled rapid progress in computer vision in the 2010s. ImageNet is a collection of 15 million precisely labelled photographs organized in 22,000 categories and was the largest publicly available dataset at the time. Fei-Fei’s and ImageNet’s impact has extended far beyond AI. After the success of ImageNet, researchers realized the power of neural networks and big data to deliver similar breakthroughs, and they used Fei-Fei’s model to drive advances in the radiology, music, and autonomous vehicles fields.
Alongside her tremendous technical contributions, Fei-Fei Li is a leading advocate for diversity in AI and STEM. She established Stanford’s first-ever department-wide diversity committee and international nonprofit AI4ALL, dedicated to increasing diversity in the artificial intelligence field.
Dr. Carolina Cruz-Neira: VR visionary, computer engineer, researcher
Dr. Carolina Cruz-Neira is an industry leader in virtual reality and interactive visualization and has invented a variety of game-changing technologies that have become standard tools in industry, government, and academia. She is the co-inventor of the VR CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) that brought a popular form of social VR to the world. The CAVE is an immersive system that became the standard tool for rear projection-based virtual reality systems.
Dr. Cruz-Neira has spearheaded many open source initiatives such as VRJuggler to grow VR technologies, and she is also recognized for founding many successful virtual reality research centers such as the Virtual Reality Applications Center at Iowa State University, the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise, and the Emerging Analytics Center at the University of Arkansas.