Oral-History:Women in Computing

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About Women in Computing Oral History Collection

In 1996-1998, Dr. Janet Abbate served as a post-doctoral fellow at the IEEE History Center. Her chief focus during her fellowship was the completion of her book on the history of the internet, Inventing the Internet(MIT Press, 1999).

Soon after, she chose as her next project a study of female participation in computer science and technology, with the goal of writing a book on the subject. A major part of her research for the project in 2001-2003 was conducting fifty-two oral histories with American and British women in computing. She contacted the IEEE History Center to see if it was interested in the project (it was) and if we would be willing to work with her, and preserve the finished oral histories

Now, a decade later she has finished this book, Recoding Gender: Women’s Changing Participation in Computing, (MIT Press, Fall 2012). With the book’s completion, the original oral histories are being made available for the first time to other researchers here through the IEEE Global History Network.

Today, Dr. Abbate is Associate Professor of Science and Technology in Society at the Northern Virginia campus of Virginia Tech University.

To date, the following oral histories from this project have been posted on the GHN. Additional oral histories will be posted over the next year.

Oral Histories

  • Fran Allen - Allen started her 45 year-long career at IBM in its Research Division, where her pioneering work on optimizing compiler techniques revolutionized the field of computing. In 2006, she became the first woman to win the A. M. Turing Award, the highest award for computer science in the country.
  • Jean Bacon - As a professor, Bacon has devoted her career to establishing computer science as an academic discipline. She is currently Professor of Distributed Systems at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory, Director of Studies in Computer Science at Jesus College, and heads the Opera Research Group.
  • Ruzena Bajscy - An academic and researcher, Bajcsy founded the General Robotics and Active Sensory Perception Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania. After serving as head of the National Science Foundation’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate, she began teaching at UC Berkeley. Her recent research in machine perception, robotics and artificial intelligence earned her the 2009 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Science.
  • Jean Bartik - Among the first generation of women programmers, Bartik worked on the ENIAC and UNIVAC computers.
  • Mary Lee Berners-Lee - Berners-Lee was an important British mathematician and computer programmer who worked in a team that developed programs for Manchester University’s series of Ferranti Mark 1 computers.
  • Susan Bond - Bond’s long career in computing at the Royal Radar Establishment included work on the Radar Automatic Computer and ALGOL 68 compiler.
  • Anita Borg - In addition to her cutting-edge research, Borg devoted her career in computing to making the field open to women. She founded three professional organizations for women in technology, the online community Systers, the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, and the Institute for Women and Technology.
  • Betty Campbell - For nearly forty years, Campbell worked as a computer programmer at MIT’s Radiation Laboratory. She participated in research projects with the Theory Group, Joint Computing Group, and Nuclear Science Lab, and helped to develop the 704 and Whirlwind computers.
  • Rosemary Candlin - An academic computer scientist, Candlin was highly involved in the evolution of the discipline in her role as Director of Studies in the Computer Science department at the University of Edinburgh. After nearly thirty years of teaching, she went on to work for the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva.
  • Fan Chung-Graham - Chung-Graham’s experience as a computer scientist spans both corporate and academic worlds. After working as a research manager at Bell Labs, she accepted teaching positions at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, San Diego, where she is currently a professor.
  • Mary Coombs - As a programmer at J. Lyons & Co., Coombs worked on LEO, the first computer used for commercial business applications.
  • Betty Cooper - While at J. Lyons & Co., Cooper worked as a programmer on LEO I and LEO II, among the earliest computers used for commercial business applications, and wrote the Braille program for both projects.
  • Marge Devaney - Among the first generation of computer programmers, Devaney spent four decades at the Los Alamos National Laboratory where she worked on the Mathematical Analyzer, Numerical Integrator, and Computer (MANIAC) Program.
  • Jean Dollimore - Dollimore’s career as a researcher began at University College, followed by the Institute of Computing Science, where she taught courses on FORTRAN. She moved to Queen Mary College where she worked on the COSMOS project and specialized in distributed systems, co-authoring the influential book Distributed Systems: Concepts and Design.
  • Thelma Estrin - Estrin’s research has spanned the fields of electrical and biomedical engineering. After working in electroencephalography at the Neurological Institute of New York, she worked in Israel on WEIZAC, the region’s first electronic computer. She then joined UCLA’s Brain Research Institute, serving as director of the Data Processing Laboratory. She has held various leadership positions within IEEE and was honored as a Life Fellow in 1977.
  • Elizabeth "Jake" Feinler‎ - Feinler is an Internet and computer information scientist whose work has earned her a place in the Internet Hall of Fame. She spent the bulk of her career at the Stanford Research Institute, where she directed the Network Information Systems Center. After leaving Stanford, she joined the Ames Research Center at NASA.
  • Adele Goldberg - Goldberg began her career as a researcher at Xerox, where she developed the programming language Smalltalk and managed the System Concepts Laboratory. She continued to develop Smalltalk technology as the head of ParcPlace Systems, which she co-founded. She served as president of the Association for Computing Machinery and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from PC Magazine in 1990.
  • Susan Graham - Graham has devoted her research as a software engineer to computer programming language implementation, developing the Titanium system and Harmonia framework. She was the first woman professor of engineering at UC Berkeley, where she continues to teach. In 2009 she received the von Neumann Medal from IEEE.
  • Lois Haibt - Part of the first generation of computer programmers, Haibt was the only woman on the FORTRAN team at IBM.
  • Ann Hardy - Hardy worked as a programmer in the early field of shared, network-based computing out of which the Internet would eventually develop. She got her start at IBM, later moving to Tymshare where she became the first woman vice-president before founding her own companies, KeyLogic and Agorics.
  • Paula Hawthorn - Hawthorn managed software development at Hewlett-Packard, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and a number of influential start-ups. She devoted her professional energies to opening the field of computing to women, founding support groups at universities and corporations.
  • Marlene Hazle - Hazle started her career in distributed computer systems at the RAND Corporation working on the SAGE system. After moving to MITRE, she developed software for the first automated air traffic controller system and tactical warfare systems for the Air Force.
  • Bobby Hersom - Hersom worked as a computer programmer at Elliot Brothers, Rothamstead, and Hatfield Polytechnic developing various software.
  • Kathy Humphry - Humphry’s work at the crossroads of computing and communications began as a telephone switching technician at Standards Telephones and Cable. She continued this work at Blue Cross/Blue Shield before teaching and providing technical support at Open University and the University of Edinburgh. She went on to work as a programmer at Xilinx.
  • Eleanor Ireland - During WWII Ireland joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service and was stationed at Bletchley Park. There she operated the Colossus computers as part of an elite, top-secret codebreaking team.
  • Karen Spärck Jones - Spärck Jones’ started her prolific research career in natural language processing and information retrieval at Cambridge University, first in the Language Research Unit and then in the Computer Laboratory. She invented inverse document frequency weighting, a technique used in online search engines today. A leader in the field, she received numerous awards and served as president of the Association for Computational Linguistics in 1994.
  • Hilary Kahn - Kahn’s introduction to computing began with the KDF 9 and ALGOL computers. She spent her career as a researcher in the Computer Science department at Manchester University, working on computer-aided design and software engineering projects like COBOL and the MU5 computer system.
  • Laurie Keller - Before becoming the first woman lecturer in computing at Open University, Keller worked as a programmer for Electronic Data Systems, TRW, Iraq Petroleum, Texas Instruments, and Continental Airlines.
  • Mary Kircher - An early pioneer of women in computing, Kircher spent her career as a programmer at Los Alamos, where she worked on Marchant calculators, MANIAC, FORTRAN, BASIC, and Hewlett-Packard languages.
  • Heather Liddell - Liddell began her research career at Queen Mary College as a post-doctoral fellow in Electrical Engineering before joining the nascent Computer Science department. Her work, which applies programming to numerical problems and analysis, has covered laser optical filters, ICL and Atlas computers, and IBM machines.
  • Barbara Liskov - Liskov worked as a computer programmer at Mitre Corporation and Harvard before completing her PhD in Computer Science at Stanford. She began teaching at MIT where her research projects in the field of database analysis include Venus, CLU, Argus, and Thor.
  • Gillian Lovegrove - Lovegrove’s long career in academia began at Cambridge, where she worked in the Maths Lab on EDSAC. She has taught at Portsmouth, Southampton, Staffordshire, and Northumbria, where she is currently Emeritus Professor of Computing and Software Design.
  • Margaret Marrs - Marrs joined the early field of computer programming on the corporate side before beginning a long career in academia. After working for Ferranti Computing Sytems, she joined the faculty of Norwich University.
  • Mary Tsingou Menzel - Menzel worked in applied mathematics at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Among her contributions to defense research is her programming work for the “proton storage ring.”
  • Judith Mills - Mills worked as a programmer for Hepsworth’s the Tailors doing financial computing using COBOL. After taking a teaching position at Wakefield College, she joined General Electric as a systems developer.
  • Pamela "Pam" Morton - Morton began her career as a civil servant, working as a researcher at the Laboratory of the Government Chemist, and a project leader at the Ministry of Technology. Her work as an educator at Greenwich University was recognized with the Peugeot/Talbot Council for Industry and Higher Education Partnership Award. A leader in the scientific field, Morton worked in the Cabinet Office of the Women’s National Commission where she spearheaded a campaign to integrate women into scientific industries.
  • Carol Shanesy - Shanesy got her start in computing as a researcher for IBM, working under Ralph Gomory. She left IBM briefly to work at Rand Corporation on programming projects for the New York City Fire Department. Shanesy returned to IBM as a Systems Engineer in their Public Sector, continuing her municipal programming work for New York City.
  • Dame Stephanie (Steve) Shirley - Renowned philanthropist Dame Stephanie Shirley brought her strong social consciousness to her work as an entrepreneur. In 1962 she founded Freelance Programmers Ltd., a software company that outsourced its work to women programmers with dependents. Her organization, the Shirley Foundation, has supported charities dealing with autism and advanced emerging technological fields. In addition, she is one of the founding members of the British Computer Society.
  • Elsie Shutt - Founded in 1958, Shutt’s company Computations, Inc. pioneered the “cottage industry” of freelance women programmers working from home with dependents. Before starting CompInc., she worked as a programmer on ENIAC and at Honeywell.
  • Barbara Simons - Simons entered computing as a researcher at IBM where her work on clock synchronization won her an IBM Research Division Award. As president of the Association for Computing Machinery she was involved in shaping technology legislation.
  • Lucy Slater - A mathematician, Slater worked on hypergeometric functions and Roger-Ramujan identities using some of the first computers. She helped develop early computer operation systems, and eventually turned her research to economic theories and computing, creating econometric computer programs in conjunction with the British government.
  • Pat Stewart - Stewart began working with computers while at Barclay’s Bank, where she was instrumental in the company’s transition to the decimal system. She spent the bulk of her career at the Computing Service Department at Cambridge University, where she taught computer courses to the faculty.
  • Chris Warner - As an educator, Warner has taught computer science courses at ICL, South Bank, Open University, Kingston University, and Reed Connections.
  • Telle Whitney - Whitney got her start in Silicon Valley designing computer chips and software. After holding senior management positions at Actel, Malleable Technologies, and PMC Sierra, she joined the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology where she is currently president.
  • Silvia Wilbur - Wilbur taught herself ALGOL while working as a secretary at the University of East London. She eventually got her degree in computing and worked as a researcher at University College London, where she was involved in the ARPANET project. After teaching at the University of East London and Queen Mary College, she worked on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, developing video-conferencing technology. She also ran Women Into Computing workshops to introduce girls to computer science.
  • Emily Willbanks - Devoting most of her research to defense projects, Willbanks first worked at Pratt and Whitney Aircraft. She left for Los Alamos where she worked for over forty years. Her projects included designing weapons systems and, as a member of the Computer Division, maintaining storage systems.
  • Diane Wray - Wray started programming for the Electricity Board before joining the Civil Service. She worked first for the Social Security Department before joining Securities, and helped enforce technology security standards in both offices.