The beauty and the geek

Published: May 30, 2010, 11:56 IST | Lindsay Pereira |

Where are all the women? It's a question that, after a point, begins to bother folk tired of reading about names like Paul Allen, Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Jerry Yang and Larry Ellison

Where are all the women? It's a question that, after a point, begins to bother folk tired of reading about names like Paul Allen, Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Jerry Yang and Larry Ellison.

The question gains more relevance when one takes into consideration that, in America alone, the number of women represented in information technology peaked in the late eighties. This situation even prompted one Englishwoman to create a group called BCSWomen (for the British Computer Society) to support women considering a career in IT.



This may explain why television continues to propagate the stereotypical male geek, and the now widely-held view that computer scientists sit in isolated cubicles and laugh at computer screens well into the wee hours. It is important to point out that the women have always been around. They may not hog headlines  as say, Steve Job does, but to ignore their contributions to computing would be criminal.

The world's first programmer, Ada Lovelace, the only legitimate child of poet Lord Byron, worked with the mathematician Charles Babbage on his 'analytical engine'. She helped create the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine, way back in 1842.

Closer to our time, Grace Hopper came up with the idea of machine-independent programming languages. Without that notion, we wouldn't have COBOL. Remember that 80% of the world's business ran on COBOL by 1997, and Hopper's shadow suddenly looms large. Incidentally, she also helped make the term 'debugging' popular; in her case, it supposedly involved a real bug -- a moth stuck in her computer.

The first person to use a computer at home was a programmer called Mary Allen Wilkes. Roberta Williams helped create graphical adventure games for PCs. Susan Kare played a major role in creating the interface for the original Apple Macintosh. Radia Perlman's work changed the study of encryption and networking.

Keep these names in mind, however briefly, the next time you switch on your iMac, rush to your PSP or choose to lean heavily on Google for any sort of solution.

-- Lindsay Pereira is Editor, MiD Day Online

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