In a world in which technology is so much part of everyday activities, not having a smartphone or laptop or tablet in our hands is simply unimaginable. Business deals may go unexecuted without technology that bridges companies separated by oceans; human rights abuse in one continent would go unnoticed without the digital communication media that distributes the news or message; there would be no proper tsunami warning after a major earthquake.
But did you know that we owe this technology that makes modern living much easier to a woman?
Meet Grace Hopper, a pioneer computer scientist and a trailblazer for all women who have ever pursued a career in the computing field. A rear admiral in the US Navy, Hopper was a part of a team that invented the first computer, Harvard Mark I. She later headed the team that invented the first compiler, a computer program that transforms source code written in a programming language into another computer language. In 1943, after earning her PhD in mathematics from Yale University, she took a leave of absence from Vassar College (where she was a professor) and joined the US Navy in World War II.
Unlike names like Turing or Gates, you’d probably never heard of her, although she was one of the first people who championed the idea of machine independent programming languages. After the war was over, leading to her discharge from the Navy, she joined the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation, where she worked on the early programming languages such as COBOL and FORTRAN. If your IT friends or colleagues say “debugging” when fixing computer glitches, think about her as she was the one who popularized the word.
Sadly, even after a decade since she passed away in 1992, women are still underrepresented in the science and technology fields. According the United States Department of Commerce, despite making up 48 percent of the US workforce, women only fill a quarter of the jobs in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. A research conducted by Women in Global Science and Technology on emerging economies including Indonesia found that there is indeed equity issue in the workplace. The disadvantage women face in STEM fields can be contributed to unequal opportunities, along with some other factors, like health and social status correlations and the role of education.
The gender proportion imbalance is caused by deeply ingrained structural discrimination. So as a step towards spreading awareness of this problem, let’s enjoy a documentary on the legendary female computer scientist Grace Hopper, “The Queen of Code,” by Gillian Jacobs.
Aqila Putri is a sophomore studying at Wesleyan University, trying to pursue her degree in Economics and International Relations. Her daydreams consist of owning a bakery and a kitchen like Gordon Ramsay’s. Hit her up at @aqilalistya to talk about food, cat, and social justice.