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The women who have made the history of technology

While names like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Adriano Olivetti are known by all, less well known are the names of the women who have contributed to the technology and information technology sector.

Whether in the past or today, many are the women who have excelled in the world of information technology and the web for their skills and inventions. From the first programmer to the forerunner of wireless, from the developers who contributed to man's journey to the Moon to robotics experts.

This publication summarises a brief list of the main women who have lent themselves to this type of discovery. And if anyone has any doubts about the role of women in sectors with a masculine tradition, a few lines are enough to understand how important their talent is.


ADA LOVELACE, 1815 - 1852

Born in the United Kingdom to a genius poet, she became a genius herself, but in a different field to her father's, mathematics. From a very young age, Ada showed a great passion for science and mathematics, so much that she became the mother of today's computer. Few people know that it was she who programmed the first automatic calculating machine after meeting the mathematician Charles Babbage. Knowing the ideas of the English mathematician, Ada understood the potential of the analytical machine that could not be traced back to a simple calculator.

Today she is considered a pioneer in the history of computer science for her essential contribution to computer programming. It is no coincidence that the United States Department of Defense, starting from 1979, wanted to honour her by giving the name of ADA to a computer programming language.

HEDY LAMARR, 1914 - 2000

Viennese and beautiful enough to be called "femme fatale", she was an important scientist as well as an actress. In pursuing her passion for the artistic world and working for more than thirty films, she gave up her degree in Engineering. However, what she has helped to discover in the technological world is no less important. Her figure as a researcher and scientist was responsible for the invention, in the early 1930s, of a modulation system aimed at encoding information to be transmitted on radio frequencies. This type of system, at the basis of cryptography, mobile telephony and wireless systems, immediately aroused the interest of military apparatus and secret services.

SISTER MARY KENNETH KELLER, 1913 - 1985

In her case, Church - home - computers make up the perfect trio. American and nun, she was one of the first women, if not the first, to obtain a PhD in Computer Science in the USA. The Ph.D. in Computer Science acquired in 1965 was a further success after obtaining a degree in Mathematics and a degree in Mathematics and Physics. Following this, her career and teaching at Clarke College in Dubuque saw her establish the Computer Science Department and become its President for twenty years. This was not enough and Sister Mary designed a Master's degree for the application of computer science to teaching, given the great importance of accessibility and its application to everyday life.

KAREN SPARCK JONES, 1935 - 2006

It is believed that Google owes its birth to this woman, one of the leading figures in search engine development. An English graduate in Philosophy, she lent herself to teaching before devoting herself to computer science. In 1972, she began to conduct a study on a statistical theory that introduced the "inverse document frequency", which is useful to automatically derive a text from a document index. The theory was used years later by Mike Burrows to create the Alta Vista search engine. In this context, the female hi-tech campaign that Karen promoted is also very significant. In this regard she said: "I think it is very important to bring women closer to information technology. My motto is: IT is too important to be left to men".

KATHERINE JOHNSON, 1918 - 2020 & MARGARETH HAMILTON, 1936

Katherine Johnson and Margaret Hamilton are two of the women involved in the team who contributed to the success of the Apollo 11 mission in bringing the first man to the Moon in 1969.

Katherine Johnson, an American graduate before her time, was noticed by a professor at the University of West Virginia who invited her to take advanced courses in analytical mathematics. Inserted in the NASA (then NACA) complex, she helped calculate the correct trajectory of the first American space flight, the 1959 Alan Shepard space flight. In addition, she was also involved in the verification of John Glenn's mathematical calculations of Earth orbit and the trajectory calculations of Apollo 11 in 1969.

Margaret Hamilton, also an American, was involved in the success of the Apollo 11 space program as Director of the Software Engineering Division of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory. The Hamilton team resolved the complications that arose during the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon and made the mission a success. She then became an entrepreneur and founded Hamilton Technologies in Cambridge for the development of computer systems and software.

GRACE MURRAY HOPPER, 1906 - 1992

American, young and very curious, she has gone down in the history of computer science as one of the most prominent figures. Thanks to her deductive and analytical skills she was the first to think of a machine independent programming language, the so-called "Cobol". Moreover, it is worth remembering how the woman who invented the Debugging method, i.e. the procedure for identifying and eliminating computer bugs through analysis of the program's source code.

In 1943 she joined the Navy as a volunteer and worked on the development of the Mark I computer, one of the first electromechanical computers in history. Offered to the US Navy, Grace's role became fundamental for the decryption of encryption codes used in the Axis communications at that time.

SOPHIE WILSON, 1957

Having taken a keen interest in computer products, Sophie Wilson became the creator of microprocessors for smartphones.

After studying computer science at Cambridge, she designed an 8-bit microcomputer for hobbyists produced for the British company Acorn Computers in 1979. Hired by the same company, it took her a record time to design what later became the BBC Microcomputer. In the following years a great success has seen millions of BBC Microcomputers purchased by individual users as well as schools across the UK. Other solutions were created by Sophie, together with her colleague Steve Furber, such as the Arm processor used for many products, such as tablets, televisions and videogames.

ANITA BORG, 1949 – 2003

Anita has inspired and still inspires many people, she has stimulated thousands of women to approach technology. From student to researcher, she has worked for many US technology companies. She developed an email communication system called "Mecca", which allowed virtual communities to communicate on the web. This was when the concept of the web community did not yet exist. In 1987, she founded "Systers" as the largest community of women in the IT industry. The occasion became a private place to share professional reflections and opinions.

She also founded the Institute that bears her name, the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology which is dedicated to women and technology. She has also set up an annual conference for women in the IT world. Today the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is one of the most popular events in the USA.

ARIANNA MENCIASSI, 1971

An internationally renowned Italian researcher, she is one of the leading experts in biomedical and surgical robotics, and not only. Graduated in Physics in Pisa in 1995, she immediately undertook a PhD in mechanical and biological micro-object manipulation techniques. For this same path she won the Best Manipulation Paper Award at the International Conference of Robotics and Automation held in Seoul in 2001.

Currently Associate Professor of Industrial Bio-engineering and coordinator of the "Surgical Robotics" research area at the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Pisa, she confirms that the technologies and the application of micro and nano-technologies to diagnostics and therapy are her main interests.

Arianna Menciassi boasts numerous researches and over one hundred publications that help doctors of different specialisations every day. She also says: "The world of industrial robotics is very masculine, but biomedical robotics, and biomedical engineering in general, are a mixed world. This is because the biomedical aspect of robotics is very attractive to women, who think about the usefulness and social value of what they do perhaps more than men".

SAMANTHA CRISTOFORETTI, 1977

The first Italian astronaut and the third European in space, Samantha Cristoforetti represents one of the most important faces of our country. Born in Milan but originally from Trento and with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Munich, Samantha has brought home no small success. The numerous languages she speaks and her innovative spirit are just a few of the tactics that distinguish her. During her mission in space, she conducted experiments in human physiology, biological analysis and experiments on the printing of weightless 3D objects on behalf of various Italian institutes.

Translated by Francesca Cioffi

Original version by Sofia Abourachid


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  • L'Autore

    Sofia Abourachid

    Dottoressa in Scienze Politiche, Relazioni Internazionali e Diritti Umani con Laurea acquisita presso l’Università degli Studi di Padova.

    Dottoressa Magistrale in Relazioni Internazionali curriculum di Diplomazia e Organizzazioni Internazionali con Laurea acquisita presso l’Università degli Studi di Milano.

    Appassionata di diritti umani e di tutto ciò che concerne il sociale, tra cui tematiche di uguaglianze di genere, minori, donne, immigrati e terzo settore. Altrettanto appassionata di storia e di politica internazionale, così come di formazione, comunicazione, e percorsi di motivazione.

    Con la sua storia, le origini arabe, e skills personali, in Mondo Internazionale ha ricoperto la carica di Project Manager per il progetto TrattaMI Bene; oggi, oltre ad essere Editor, ricopre il ruolo di Chief Editor dell'area Diritti Umani.

    -

    Graduated in Political Science, International Relations and Human Rights with a Degree from the University of Padua.

    Master's Degree in International Relations, Diplomacy and International Organizations
    curriculum with a Degree from the University of Milan.

    She is interested in human rights and everything related to social issues, including gender equality, minors, women, immigrants and the third sector. She is equally passionate about history and international politics, as well as training, communication, motivation and personal growth.

    With her personal history, her arab origins, and personal skills, in Mondo Internazionale she held the role of Project Manager for the TrattaMI Bene project; today, in addition to being Editor, she also holds the role of Chief Editor of the Human Rights area.

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