Programmers, the unknown heroines – economics

Ada Lovelace, the name of the developer of the world’s first computer program, is probably still known. But Hedy Lamarr? Grace Hopper? Shirley Ann Jackson? Karen Spärck Jones? Most people have never heard of these names, although without them digitalization wouldn’t be what it is. Lamarr invented the method of spreading frequencies, without which modern mobile communications would not be possible. Hopper (nickname: Amazing Grace) was instrumental in the development of early computers and the user-friendly Cobol programming language. And without Jackson, there might not be a Caller ID on the phone. Spärck Jones researched the automatic processing of natural languages, his work is still the basis of many search engines today.

Yet these women have largely disappeared from the history books. The history books are about Alexander Graham Bell, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, Alan Turing, Konrad Zuse and Larry Page. These are men. Women are forgotten. This is not due to their achievements, but to our memory system. About who decides to whom a service is awarded. “Women are irreplaceable for the progress of our society. They have proven to be pioneering inventors in contemporary history,” Thomas Dettling, director of energy at Siemens, recently wrote on Twitter. “Most of the time, however, their inventions are not associated with their creators.”

“Programming is like cooking dinner”

From the early days of computing until the late 1980s, programming was considered a female profession, especially during World War II. In 1987, the proportion of women in software development in the United States was 42%. In 1967, the American women’s magazine Cosmopolitan wrote an article on “The Age of Computer Women” and quoted Grace Hopper: “Programming is like cooking dinner. works with patience and attention to detail. Women are natural talents in programming. “For a long time, female programmers were considered a kind of modern secretary and weren’t particularly well paid. It was only after the PC moved into homes and computer games were heralded as a pass. -time for boys that men entered the industry and with them money and fame.

There are many reasons why women are such a minority in IT today. One of them is: There is a lack of models. The general image of programmers changed in the late ’80s and early’ 90s and has stuck with the cliché ever since: a programmer is a young man who too rarely sees the sun and plays in front of his computer instead of meeting people. friends – and certainly not with girlfriends. The stereotypical programmer is a nerd. And certainly not a woman. It would be all the more important to make the programmers visible. Female models of history and of the present. Because they exist.

Open detailed view

At this point, every Wednesday, Marc Beise, Helmut Martin-Jung, Jürgen Schmieder and Kathrin Werner write alternately.

(Photo: Bernd Schifferdecker)

A movie like “Hidden Figures – Unrecognized Heroines” helps, it tells the story of the three African-American mathematicians from Nasa Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. Exhibitions and reports around Ada Lovelace’s 200th birthday in 2012 help. And it helps when men like Siemens Energy Manager Dettling tweet about the importance of feminine inventions for no reason.

And for today’s IT people, a few years ago there was an internet campaign: #ILookLikeAnEngineer. Under the motto, the programmers shared their photo on social media to show that not all of the people in their jobs are men and fit the old nerd cliché. Women are coming together more and more to ensure more visibility, for example in the organization Coding Black Females or Women in AI or the Global Digital Women in Germany. But more needs to be done to combat stereotypes. It also has to do with history and the history books that need to be rewritten. Hedy Lamarr was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014, an organization that honors inventors primarily from the United States. And now there is a Grace Hopper street in Lübeck. No more of that !

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