3 of the Most Impressive Female Leaders in Tech History

The forgotten Women in Technology


Big tech has always had incredible innovators behind its conception, but sometimes, due to gender, race, or both, these great minds do not get recognized. This attitude has changed in recent years, but during Women’s History Month, #BecauseofYou, Modest Tree wanted to take a moment to thank the incredible women in science, math, engineering, and technology (known as the field of STEM) and their contributions that have allowed us to pursue our current role in developing innovative tech.

Their accomplishments were met with little or no acknowledgment until recently, marking a failure of the scientific community. However, this indicates something quite noble. With little reward or recognition available to these women in STEM, their pursuit of science was not for glory, but instead for the joy of science alone. Not only do we thank them for the technological advancements they have created, but also for creating the spirit we here at Modest Tree try to emulate—the love of learning and advancement.


So, here are 3 tech women in STEM you should be thanking.

#1 Ada Lovelace – The first Programmer


Seeing into the future is not a requirement when working in the field of science, but being able to see the potential in technology and innovation is a very favourable trait. Often given the name 'prophet of the computer age' Ada Lovelace is recognized as the first computer programmer and a woman in STEM who saw beyond her time.

Finding A Partner In Crime


Born in 1815, a time when women even learning the sciences was considered taboo, Lovelace was tutored in mathematics at her mother's request. Her debut on the socialite scene at the age of 17 resulted in her meeting the innovator Charles Babbage — the father of computer hardware. Babbage, at that time, had been working on a machine that could complete mathematical calculation and demonstrated the strange contraption to Lovelace at a party. Lovelace was instantly captivated and began her STEM career.


Breaking Ground On The Field Of Computing


Through the years, while working with Babbage on his device, Lovelace wrote and edited extensive notes on the machine and its inner workings. Her notes, specifically Note G, became the first published description of a stepwise sequence of operations, essentially the first documentation of computer programming. Lovelace became a hugely impactful woman in STEM during a time when women were barred from the very field itself.

Lovelace, however, didn’t stop there. She saw greater innovative potential.


The Quote That Created Computing


In her notes on Babbage's machine, she wrote, “The science of operations, as derived from mathematics more especially, is a science of itself, and has its own abstract truth and value.” Lovelace states in this quote that computing itself is more than just mathematics. She recognized that these machines, computers, could do more than just combine and manipulate numbers. This woman in tech realized much earlier than most, that the science of computing alone could be its own branch of science.


Although her vision and contributions went on unrecognized for hundreds of years her insight and innovative mind paved the way for the field of computer science and future women in STEM.

#2 Dr. Shirley Jackson- First African American Woman To Earn A Ph.D. From MIT


If you’ve ever used high-speed internet or caller ID, then you’ve benefited from Dr. Jackson’s work. More than that, Jackson's achievements hold a value that is greater than the technology she created; she paved the way for young African-American women in STEM when academia was not a welcoming place for them.

Early Years


Jackson’s interest in math and the world around her inspired her younger years and led the high school valedictorian to continue her studies at MIT, pursuing a degree in physics. Upon completion, she began her Ph.D. at the same institution, ready to follow her dreams despite the continual racism and discrimination she faced as a woman of colour in STEM.


Hardships in Academia


Isolation and discrimination are the words Jackson will relate to the beginning of her academic career as a woman of colour in STEM. Her race and gender were used against her, marking her as an outcast. However, through her achievements within the institution and consistent grit, the isolation and discrimination gave way to respect.


In 1973, Jackson became the first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. from MIT, making her the second African-American woman in the country to receive a Ph.D. It was a monumental achievement, but her career as a woman in STEM only excelled from there.


Ground-breaking Career

After graduation, she continued on to complete breakthrough scientific research at the AT&T Bell laboratories, laying the foundation for modern technology, such as fiber optic cables, solar cells, and touch-tone phones. Now seen as a leader within the field of technology, she was invited to serve as Chairman of the U.S Nuclear regulatory commission, then progressed to be the president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic institute. She was later appointed to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.


In 2014 Jackson was presented with the National Medal of Honor, the highest honor for scientific achievement bestowed by the U.S. Government. Her career truly displayed the depth of her love of science and her perseverance in the face of so much hateful opposition. She truly changed the world of academia for women of colour and women in STEM.


#3 Dr. Gladys West- the foundation for the modern GPS


Have you ever wondered how your phone knows where it is? How does your uber know where you are and where to go? Well, you can thank Dr. Gladys West for that, another innovator that advanced the progress of women in STEM.


Dreaming Big

The Virginia-born Mathematician grew up in a small rural farm and knew from a young age that innovation and education were the key to a different life. After receiving top grades at her high school and securing a scholarship at Virginia State University, she pursued an undergrad and then a masters in mathematics before being hired by the Naval Proving Ground in Dahlgren, VA.


During her career with the Navy, she became involved with the Seasat radar development as a project manager. Throughout the project, West refined Seasat information and other satellite intelligence to formulate a mathematical model of the earth's actual shape, called a geoid.


The Earth Problem

Woman of Tech, Dr. Gladys West. Photo Cred: US Air Force

The earth is not a globe. Although usually represented as one, the planet we call home is incredibly misshapen, not a perfect sphere at all. So, finding the distance between two points on earth used to be nearly impossible. That was before West’s innovative geoid model.


West’s Geoid Solution


This incredibly precise model of the earth became instrumental in the development of the modern-day Global Positioning system (GPS). Now, thanks to Dr. West’s contributions, we can pinpoint someone's exact position on the globe, allowing us to track locations, calculate distances, and yes, even track down our uber driver!


Finally Getting Credit

West’s accomplishments and contributions to modern-day technology went widely unknown until a former sorority sister came across a biography West submitted for a sorority alumni event. The sorority sister became determined to help West share her incredible technological achievements with the world. Finally, in 2018 West’s story was covered by Associated Press and was officially recognized by the United States Military. She has since been inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneer Hall of Fame and was commended by the Virginia State Senate.

A Legacy Bigger Than Technology


Truly inspiring is the work that these women in STEM so selflessly pursued, and so little was their recognition at the time of their achievement. Although acknowledgment and gratitude today seems too late, we want to thank these women for the technological advancements they contributed to while pioneering the field of STEM to allow other women and women of colour to make strides within the industry.


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