An old magazine article has resurfaced online to remind us that before ‘brogrammers’ there were ‘The Computer Girls’.
At Inspirefest 2015, Kathy Kleiman told us all of the “amazing history” of women in technology. Her story tracing women’s contribution to the technological breakthroughs of the 19th and 20th centuries was amazing, largely because it is so often, and so easily, forgotten.
Today, if you ask someone to picture a programmer, they are likely to imagine a young, white, middle-class dude in a hoodie, jeans, and maybe a geeky T-shirt – not a woman with a beehive and a miniskirt. But, in the ’60s, this was the stereotypical programmer.
According to historian Nathan Ensmenger, the scan below is taken from the April 1967 issue of Cosmopolitan where it appeared sandwiched between articles titled The Bachelor Girls of Japan and A Dog Speaks: Why a Girl Should Own a Pooch.
This bit of Cosmo history recalls a time when career opportunities for women in programming were rife and The Computer Girls were the dominant force in the industry.
The article (which is, unfortunately, cut short) features IBM systems engineer Ann Richardson and also includes a quote from none other than Grace Murray Hopper, an early female programmer credited with the development of computer language COBOL.
It’s in Hopper’s name that Coding Grace organise female-friendly coding workshops and events here in Ireland.
Yet women’s influence on technology dates back even further than Hopper’s time. It was Ada Lovelace, an English mathematician believed to have written the world’s first computer program in the mid-19th century, who inspired the Ada Initiative, a non-profit set-up to increase women’s participation in open source technology.
Sadly, the Ada Initiative will shut down later this year but, true to form, its work will continue thanks to freely available, reusable, and modifiable materials.
The Computer Girls live on.
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Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM with fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity.
Updated, 10.39am, 25 August 2015: An earlier version of this article incorrectly cited Anna Lewis and the blog Fog Creek as the source for this scan. The text has been updated with credit for Nathan Ensmenger, who has written about this topic in his book, The Computer Boys Take Over and other essays. We regret this error and have extended apologies to Prof Ensmenger.