From Ada Lovelace to Kimberly Bryant: Inspiring Women Shaping the Software Industry

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More than 150 years ago, Ada Lovelace wrote the first computer program — an algorithm to calculate Bernoulli sequences. Since then, women have continued to be at the forefront of some major industry-changing advancements in computer science.

What better way to recognize contributions than by shining a spotlight on the inspiring female software engineers who are transforming our technology landscape? From creating game-changing applications for healthcare and finance to developing powerful algorithms for machine learning, women are paving the way for a more inclusive and diverse future in STEM. 

From the second world war to the 1960s, women were a critical part of the computing sector. The legendary Grace Hopper, who developed the first compiler, Radia Perlman - dubbed the "Mother of the Internet", whose protocols were critical to the development of modern networking and Katherine Johnson, whose calculations enabled the first human spaceflight and Apollo 11 moon landing, are just a few of the many trailblazing women who have made significant contributions to computer science and software development.

At the highest levels of professional leadership in computing and technology, women are making strides. Fei-Fei Li, a computer scientist and AI expert, co-founded AI4ALL, a nonprofit organization that aims to increase diversity and inclusion. Shafi Goldwasser, a mathematician and computer scientist, has made significant contributions to cryptography and complexity theory, earning her the prestigious Turing Award. Making a significant impact on encouraging more girls to study STEM subjects, Kimberly Bryant launched 'Black Girls Code'. 

At the top

It’s imperative to not only recognize the achievements of women but also to inspire the next generation of female software engineers. We heard from a few tech leaders who reflected on their careers, revealing the most inspiring women in tech for them.

Clare Sudbery, technical agile coach: Jessica Kerr. Intelligent, thoughtful, talented and great speaker.

Jessica Kerr, engineering manager of developer relations at Esther Derby is an example to me of where I might be in twenty years. Through programming, management, consulting, decades of work and learning, she has become someone interesting and influential. Now she runs workshops and a podcast, she wrote a book and people come to her with difficult problems. Writing software is all about learning, and the learning doesn’t stop with software.

Claire Clark, VP of product & engineering at Titania: One of the most prominent women in the tech industry that I look up to is Ada Lovelace. She is considered to be the world's first computer programmer and is clearly a woman who broke boundaries.

Adam Tornhill, founder and CTO at Codescene: Margaret Hamilton managed and led a software project that genuinely broke new ground (and space), including numerous innovations that were way ahead of their time. 

Secondly, Kathy Sierra: The way Kathy applies cognitive psychology to explain, communicate, and teach deeply technical aspects of software design has been a massive influence on my own work. Absolutely brilliant!

Aino Vonge Corry, author of ‘Retrospectives Antipatterns’: I look up to Linda Rising, because she has done so many things for our field. First, she helped us understand and apply patterns. Then she helped us introduce change in organisations, and now she is helping us understand ourselves and each other. She has written numerous books, she has been deeply technical and she is still doing amazing presentations despite her high age.

Hannes Lowette, head of learning and development at Axxes IT Consultancy: Charity Majors - Not only did she tackle a bunch of interesting engineering problems throughout her career, she is inspiring in how she approaches that career too. She seems to steer away from any management tracks and stays focussed on her passion: the engineering problems. I learned about her work through a video about some of the MongoDB stuff she did in the backend of the Parse platform. Susanne Kaiser - I've seen her speak about micro services, Wardley maps, DDD, etc. Her stories are always well constructed. She's a pleasure and an inspiration.

Knowing how rough and condescending this industry can still be towards women, I admire the perseverance in anyone who goes up against all that and builds a place for themselves in this industry. There are too many to sum up: Heather Downing, Kris Howard, Layla Porter, Michele Bustamante, Julie Lerman, Rachel Appel, Amy Kapernick, Tess Ferrandez, ... and so many more.

Marcia Villalba, principal developer advocate at AWS: 40+ hour work weeks + home chores + kids and on top of that you need to add a full time work week, add on all the challenges that being a woman in tech brings and how everybody is putting you for a higher check. Every woman that is surviving is my role model, every woman that stays in the industry and brings awareness to others that this is not right is my role model.

GOTO continues to honor women 

It’s vital that the invisible female workforce that upheld the computing industry for more than a century isn’t forgotten. Which is why we believe the tech industry as a whole must continue to honor and highlight women’s contributions.

Over the years we’ve had some truly inspirational women in tech speak on GOTO stages across the globe. We’ve been fortunate enough to have women like Anita Sengupta talk about flying cars and humans on Mars, Holly Cummins dive into the technical risks with microservices, Anjana Vakil explore functional programming and Felienne Hermans on how she is changing the way kids learn how to code just to name a few!

Dive into this YouTube playlist showcasing talks by women at GOTO Conferences:

We can’t wait to welcome more inspiring women to our future conferences and our ever-growing GOTO community.

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