The wonder women of tech
To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8th March, we thought we’d take a closer look at some of the female inventors behind the technology we use every day. From Wi-Fi to home security, without these powerful pioneers the world would look very different indeed.
Rear Admiral Grace Hopper (1906–1992)
From a young age, Grace Hopper had a keen interest in how things worked. Taking apart every clock in her family’s home in a bid to understand the intricate mechanics inside. This led to a career in maths and physics before she joined the US Navy as a reserve officer at the outbreak of the Second World War.
Assigned to a computer project, Grace quickly became frustrated that all computer programs were written in numerical code. She felt computers would be more accessible if people could code in their own language. So she developed the first compiler and later co-invented the first universal programming language.
But her contribution to the simple computers we use today isn’t all we have to thank Grace Hopper for. She was also the first person to coin the phrase ‘bug’ after a moth got lodged inside a computer she was working on.
Hedy Lamarr (1914–2000)
Hedy Lamarr is perhaps better known as a star of the silver screen. Her acting career spanned almost 30 years and included the title role in the Oscar-nominated, Samson and Delilah, made in 1949. But we think it’s her off-screen antics that should have made the headlines.
Hedy was frequently to be found in her trailer between takes, busy on new and interesting inventions. In 1941, she began working with composer George Antheil. Together they developed an idea for a secret communication system that used a piano roll to change between 88 frequencies.
This made it harder for radio-guided torpedoes to be detected or blocked. But also provided the foundation for the GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology we use today.
The first home security system:
Marie Van Brittan Brown (1922–1999)
With crime on the rise in her neighbourhood, Marie Van Brittan Brown – a nurse in 1960s New York – felt increasingly unsafe when she was home alone. So, together with her husband Albert, she set about developing the first home security system.
Her trailblazing invention included an early form of CCTV, a two-way microphone for the front door and a panic alarm button which immediately contacted the police.
The first search engine:
Elizabeth “Jake” Feinler (1931 - )
In the 1970s, Elizabeth ran the Network Information Centre in California. Here she created directories for the early internet – widely considered to be a pre-cursor to the search engines we use today. All day. Every day.
Not one to rest on her laurels, she also went on to develop the domain naming scheme which helped lay the foundation for the modern internet. She’s the one to thank for the .com or co.uk we see at the end of web addresses.
Network security protocols:
Radia Perlman (1951 - )
Radia Perlman is often referred to as the “mother of the internet”, a nickname she continually denies. But there’s no denying that without her fundamental contributions, the internet wouldn’t be what it is today.
Perlman’s invention of the algorithm behind the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) in 1985 solved a difficult information routing problem, allowing computer networks to share information safely and reliably.
Could you be the next Marie Van Brittan Brown?
If the ground-breaking work of these women has inspired you to think about a career in tech, be sure to check out our careers page for all the latest roles at Hive and our parent company, Centrica. Over the next two years, Centrica is planning to increase the number of training opportunities for women in tech by hiring 1000 new apprentices - with the ambition that 50% go to women. Once qualified, these women will become Smart Energy Experts, installing smart meters and providing energy efficiency advice to customers, with opportunities to upskill in other areas. You can find out more about the programme here.