Where Girls are not found

Why is computer science still mostly a male domain ?

Brother and sister Mel McCoy and Emmy Lou of Toronto check out a Web site. While girls aren't as keen to be computer geeks as boys, many women played key roles in computer science

 

We've all heard the names Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and those of countless other men behind the computer revolution.

But the name Frances (Betty) Snyder Holberton is not commonly recognized. Ever hear of Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace? How about Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hooper ? Didn't think so.

Women have played an important role in the development of computing science, though it's still considered pretty much an exclusively male domain. Lovelace, for example, was an early pioneer of computing. The daughter of poet Lord Byron, Lovelace was born in 1815 and more that 150 years before Gates would incorporate Microsoft. She predicted computing machines would one day be able to compose complex music, produce graphics and find practical and scientific applications. Lovelace corresponded frequently with Charles Babbage and was influential in the development of concepts for his analytical engine ( an early computer that was designed but never built) in the 1840's. When later computer designers examined Lovelace and Babbage's work , they would find many of their theories to be right on the money. In 1979 , the U.S. Department of Defence honoured her by naming a software language Ada in 1979. The Ada Project (http://tap.mills.edu) is a clearing-house for information and resources related to women in computing.

Throughout the history of computing, many women have made outstanding contributions. Hopper was hugely influential, having invented the first computer compiler - a program that translates binary source code into machine language- in 1952. Hopper died in 1992, with an impressive list of accomplishments under her belt: a PhD in mathematics and Physics from Yale University, a distinquished military career, and the invention of COBOL, A programming language for business software

Even before Hopper, women were making computing history. Many worked on the famed ENIAC digital computer in the 1940's including Hoberton, who helped Hopper create COBOL and also worked on the development of FORTRAN. Both computer languages are still in use today. And there are still more: Evelyn Boyd Granville, one of the first black American women to receive a PhD in mathematics, developed computer programs used for trajectory analysis by the first manned mission in space and in the Apollo moon landing program.

So why do we generally hear only about the geeky men of computer science? "I think it could be in part because the things you can do with a computer aren't as appealing to girls as they are to boys," says Anne Condon, a science professor at the University of British Columbia. "I think that girls in school, their image of what a computer science career might be, is not really correlated with reality and not always a positive image either."

If you want proof that computers aren't just a boring subject full of math and staring at endless sceens full of itty-bitty numbers, take a look at Condon's research. She studies computational complexity theory and biomolecular computation. In English thats finding out how to make microscopic computer out DNA, the chemical building blocks of life. "Computers, they seem comfining and boring, using a computer seems like glorified typing or something like that, " she says. "But really they're integral to all fields of arts and sciences and instruments of creativity in so many ways- the potential is really exciting for people who dive in and get involved, and very different from what their images are." Condon also works with SWIFT (Supporting Women in Information Technology) , a program to encourage more women in B.C. to enter computing careers. she hopes the trend of the past will change in years to come. "Computers aren't being used the same way as they were with the advent of the Internet. Girls and women seem to be using the Internet as much as boys and men so we might see effects of that in peoples interest, too, " she says. "We have to find ways to encourage girls to get involved. We have make sure they have equal access to a computer, be proactive, show them what careers there are."

Charles Babbage The Father of Computers Ada Lovelace the mother of the ADA computer language
After Ada Lovelace wrote the description of Babbage's Analytical Engine her life was plagued with illnesses, and her social life, in addition to Charles Babbage, included Sir David Brewster (the originator of the kaleidoscope), Charles Wheatstone, Charles Dickens and Michael Faraday. Her interests ranged from music to horses to calculating machines. The personalities and accomplishments of Mr.Babbage and Ada Lovelace are very interesting and are representative of the 1800's society. It makes for a good read. Click on the pictures for more information.

The Difference Machine of Charles Babbage

 

The DIFFERENCE MACHINE

This was quite the machine all mechanical like the workings of a clock with many disks and levers. But it did perform algebraically all the mathmatical functions taking care of signs, having a accumulater. It even had cards that formed a crude memory function.

Revised 2013 by Larry Gentleman