History of women in programming

The technology and software industry have been stratified demographically in recent years. A bleak picture for women, as computer programming had a much better gender balance than it has today, almost 200 years ago.

The Sidney Morning Herald

Let’s take a look at history

The first person to do what we now call an encoder was a woman: Lady Ada Lovelace, a young English mathematician who in 1833 met Charles Babbage, an inventor who was building an analytical engine composed of metal gears and could execute commands.

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace – Medium

Lovelace noticed the potential of this development and to demonstrate it, he wrote an algorithm with which the analytical engine would calculate Bernoulli’s sequence of numbers, it is considered the first computer program in history, but Ballage never managed to build his computer and Lovelace, who died at 36, did not see his code executed.

In the 1940’s, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer or ENIAC arrives to the world, women were once again pioneers in writing software for machines.

At this time, men in the computer industry considered writing code to be a secondary task, women were dedicated to the task of doing calculations.

Companies like IBM acquired electronic tabulation machines; women worked as punch card operators for these huge calculators and helped execute ENIAC instructions.

Eniac – Wikipedia

These genuine ENIAC programmers were the first to discover that software does not work well the first time and that a programmer’s job is to find and correct errors.

After the war, women were still pioneers in coding.

In the 1950s and 1960s, men had no advantage in being hired for coding tasks.

In this decade, Mary Allen Wilkes, a Maryland native and MIT student, became a software pioneer and a programming genius. She worked on the IBM 704 and in 1961, participated in the LINC project, the world’s first interactive personal computer.

In 1960, Wilkes joined MIT as a teacher, the proportion of female professionals in computer science and mathematics was 27%, by 1990 it had reached 35%, but the figures fell, by 2013 the participation of women had dropped to 26%.

Mary Allen Wilkes – Friends School Baltimore

Today, programmers are surprised to learn that women were pioneers in the field of programming and development, to which Wilkes says, «They have absolutely no idea.

When did history change?

In 1984 the percentage of women graduates in programming dropped. By 2010, it had halved, reaching only 17.6% of graduate students in computer and information science programs.

The introduction of personal computers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, such as the Commodore 64 or the TRS-80, came to homes with the boom of games for teenagers, who were learning the main concepts of programming in their free time.

In the mid-1980s, many of the freshmen, mostly men, had high programming skills and women’s enrollment dropped dramatically.

Jane Margolis, a social scientist and now a researcher at UCLA’s School of Education and Computer Studies, spent 1995 and 1999 researching why the percentage of women in programming had declined.

In her study, she concluded that boys were more than twice as likely as their parents to give them a computer, in addition to involving them in working with basic language manuals, girls began to reduce their enthusiasm accordingly.

A marked difference in roles was born: boys were encouraged to play with electronic kits or computers and girls with dolls and toy kitchens.

At school, the same message was conveyed, computers are for boys, encouraging rejection not only of girls, but also of blacks and Latinos.

This cultural change also reached U.S. companies, with managers focusing their hiring on nerdy boys.

In the late 1990s, Jane Margolis urges her colleagues to change these numbers of imbalances between men and women in computer programs. One of these changes was the creation of classes where students were grouped according to their experience, to mitigate desertion.

They also changed the focus of the courses, showing code as part of the real world.

Women Programming – Unplash

These efforts were successful, the percentage of women in computer science programs increased almost on a par with men.

In the last decade, programming is becoming more accessible, it is much easier to learn without getting a degree, through online courses or groups of people who come together to create projects through code.

The cultural change in the schools has been achieved progressively, however, changing the culture of the industry is the great challenge, eliminating sexism, attracting women to this field of work with leadership roles, will help the growth of companies, the future of society and technolog

Privacy Preference Center