The Women Who Revolutionized Computer Programming

By: Frances Vinlove, Sophomore in the Computer Science & Engineering program at UNR

When we think about computers, people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs come to mind, right? They have contributed much to modern computer science, but what about the beginnings of computer science?

Mathematician Ada Lovelace, 1840

Mathematician Ada Lovelace, 1840

Computers have actually been around for a really long time, and women played a very important role in their development. Ada Lovelace, the daughter of poet

Lord Byron, was a mathematician who analyzed Charles Babbage’s analytical engine in 1842 and was considered the first computer programmer. In 1926, Grete Harmann’s doctoral thesis was published and is considered the foundational paper for computerized algebra. During World War II, women were employed in the Mathematical Tables Project, led by Gertrude Blanch, which did calculations for the Manhattan Project, the Army and the Navy.

Also during this time, Grace Hopper, an American computer scientist and United States Navy rear admiral was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I and invented the first compiler for a computer programming language. She is also credited with inventing the term “debugging” for fixing computer problems, because there was an actual moth removed from the computer!

Grace Hopper, 1960.

By Unknown (Smithsonian Institution) (Flickr: Grace Hopper and UNIVAC) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

There’s now even a yearly conference called the Grace Hopper Celebration, which is the world’s largest technical conference for women in computing, with more than 4,000 people attending in 2013!

And more recently, Sally Floyd worked on Transmission Control Protocol in 1994, which is an important part of how the Internet works, and Marissa Meyer (now CEO of Yahoo) was the first female engineer hired at Google in 1999.

There are many opportunities for women in computer science. If you’re interested in going to college for computer science, take some math classes in school, and if your school offers computer-related classes, take them! You can also explore on your own – go to and write your first computer program or learn to code! And remember, you can always come to UNR and take a tour of the campus to visit with Professors and students!

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