Famous Women in Computing History

Like various other fields, the field of computing is also inspired by the contribution of women. Their contributions have significantly helped in shaping the unavoidable trends in Information Technology (IT) industry. The history takes us back to the 18th century when Ada Lovelace designed the first algorithm to be executed by a computer, she is one of the pioneers of the field. Similarly, Grace Hopper was the first person to design a compiler for a programming language.

The list of women contributors may never end but I have tried to list a few of the most famous women.

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace is said to be the prophet of the computer age, one of the most famous women in computer science history. The Countess of Lovelace is best known for her work on the Analytical Engine, a mechanical general-purpose computer designed by Charles Babbage. She is recognized as the first computer programmer for her notes on the machine. She was the first to recognize that the machine had applications beyond pure calculation, and published the first algorithm intended to be carried out by such a machine. As a result, she is sometimes regarded as the first computer programmer.

You may have read the poems by Lord Byron, Ada Loveless is his daughter.

Grace Hopper

One of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, she was a pioneer of computer programming who invented one of the first compiler related tools. Her team developed the first computer language compiler, A-0, as well as Flow-Matic, the first programming language to use English-like commands. She also worked on the UNIVAC I computer and popularized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, an early high-level programming language. She always dreamed of a programming language written in English, which almost all programming languages are following.


The day before it debuted, ENIAC, the world’s first general-purpose computer failed to work. It was up to six women to make that 30 tons beast operational and they did it. They were – Jean Jennings, Marlyn Wescoff, Ruth Lichterman, Betty Snyder, Frances Bilas, and Kay McNulty. You can get the insights into how these women figured out and successfully programmed the machine by watching the documentary “Eniac Programmers Project”.

Many of the women of ENIAC went on to help in the development of UNIVAC, the world’s first commercial computer. The UNIVAC I was intended for business use that was bought by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Mary Kenneth Keller

Keller is the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in Computer Science. Keller played a significant role in developing a key computer language: Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, or BASIC. With that development, writing custom software was no longer restricted to mathematicians and scientists. Her contribution made computer use much more accessible to a broader portion of the population.

Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson helped confirm the accuracy of electronic computers used by NASA and performed critical calculations that ensured safe space travel from the 1950s on. She coauthored a research report that used equations for orbital spaceflight in 1960, performed trajectory analysis for the first human space flight in 1961, and ran equations on a desktop mechanical calculating machine before the 1962 orbital mission of John Glenn. Johnson also worked on calculations for Project Apollo’s Lunar Lander, the Space Shuttle, and the Earth Resources Satellite.

Margaret Hamilton

Margaret Hamilton, an American computer scientist and systems engineer who led the Software Engineering Division of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory. Hamilton worked on software development for Apollo 11, the first spacecraft to complete a successful mission that placed humans on the moon in 1969. Hamilton’s insistence on thorough testing is credited with the mission’s success and safety of its astronauts.

Radia Joy Perlman 

An American computer programmer and network engineer, Perlman is most famous for her invention of the spanning-tree protocol (STP), which is fundamental to the operation of network bridges. She also made large contributions to many other areas of network design and standardization, such as link-state routing protocols.

She is also known as the “mother of the Internet.”

Susan Kare

Apple’s first icon designer was artist and graphic designer Susan Kare. A member of Apple’s original Macintosh team, she designed some of the most recognizable icons that we still use today. Susan Kare’s icons and fonts for the original Macintosh were revolutionary. They gave a lifeless computer a warmth and personality that lives on in the modern Mac to this day. Among many icons, the Happy Mac, the old Dogcow icon, and the Command symbol that you can now see on any Mac keyboard are the most popular ones.

Kare also designed for Microsoft, IBM, Facebook etc.Her projects for Microsoft included the card deck for solitaire game as well as numerous icons for Windows 3.0. For IBM, she produced icons and design elements for OS/2. She also designed icons for the “Gifts” feature of Facebook.

Marissa Mayer

Marissa was one of the first people that Google hired. She spent 13 years at that company, serving as an engineer, a spokesperson, and more. In 2012, she began leading Yahoo. When the sale of Yahoo to Verizon was completed, Mayer resigned as CEO of Yahoo. Then after, Mayer cofounded Lumi Labs, an incubator that is focused on consumer media and artificial intelligence.

This is just a small list. If your career interest is towards computer science, this may inspire you.

Add in comments if your inspiration is someone else … 🙂

(Text and Images were obtained from various sources.)