The History of Women in Computing


On this day, 63 years ago, the world was introduced to the first digital, electronic computer. ENIAC - which stands for Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer - was the world’s first operational, general-purpose, digital computer, and it was developed at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. The ENIAC and the invention of the computer is considered one of the most influential and pervasive developments after World War II.

The history of computing owes much to contributions of talented women. Ada Byron Lovelace is credited with first envisioning programming with her statement, “The analytical engine weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves”. Six of the ENIAC programmers were women  who had been calculating ballistics trajectories by hand. Admiral Grace Hopper, inventor of the first computer compiler, is credited with having coined the term “computer bug” and is the namesake for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

Alas women now only represent a small fraction of computer science graduates and are not fully representd in the world of information technology and computing. This is one reason I enthusiastically agreed to co-found and serve as founding CEO of NCWIT, which has the overarching goal of achieving parity in the professional information technology (IT) workforce.

Why is this issue important? Innovation thrives with a diversity of ideas and input. As IT becomes pervasive in our lives, we need women’s full participation in the the creation of the technology upon which our society increasingly depends. Further, U.S. Department of Labor projections forecast that our economy will add 1 million professional IT jobs by 2016. Women’s lack of participation results in ideas not realized, products not implemented and jobs going unfilled.

NCWIT is working on interventions across the entire educational and career pipeline, including new ideas in curriculum, outreach, recruiting and retention. We are also studying women’s participation in key innovation metrics such as IT patenting, open source and entrepreneurship.

See the Engineering Pathway’s educational resources on the ENIAC, history of computing, Ada Lovelace and women in information technology. For curricular resources, visit the Computer Science Education, Information Science Education, Information Technology EducationComputer Engineering Education of Software Engineering Education community sites.