With International Women’s Day having recently passed, there’s no better time to explore the unrivalled impact of women in the digital world. Whether it’s through programming, designing or something else entirely, the dawn of technology and its rampant progress ever since has been led by a string of brilliant women who not only changed the digital landscape forever, but built it from the ground up. Here we explore 8 of the most prominent female figures whose influence on all things digital continues to be felt to this day…
Ada Lovelace – The World’s First Computer Programmer
Lovelace’s work as far back as 1843 resulted in her eventually being dubbed the very first computer programmer. In the world of digital progress, that’s a very significant accolade. In that year, she published a translation of an article written by renowned Italian engineer Luigi Menabrea, titled the Analytical Engine, to which she also wrote and added a significant amount of notes. Within these notes, Lovelace included the first ever published record of a sequence of steps for operations in solving particular mathematical problems – which led to her aforementioned nickname.
Ada Lovelace was also the first person to recognise and put forward the case for the computer’s potential away from mathematics. She suggested that the so-called Analytical Engine could also be programmed in a way that could see it composing music.
Lovelace’s ideas some 176 years ago were revolutionary. Her idea that a machine could potentially use symbols to set rules, and numbers to represent properties aside from basic quantities, set the world on a path towards computation that hasn’t stopped since. In many ways, she started everything.
Elizabeth Feinler – The Hosting Pioneer
We all know of .com, .org, .net and other such domain endings now, but without Elizabeth Feinler things could have been very different. She and a group of colleagues developed this well-known scheme during her management of the Host Naming Registry for the Internet between 1972 and 1989.
It goes without saying that the results of her work in this field are still being used today, but that’s not all Feinler did. She also managed another team who built the first internet-based yellow and white pages, and the very first network based on user queries – the WHOIS server.
Even before all of this, Elizabeth Feinler pioneered ARPANET for the American government, a network that was very much a forerunner to the internet as a whole. That’s a career full of incredible achievements, which considered together make Feinler a real pioneer of the internet age.
Donna Dubinsky – The Trend Setter
Donna Dubinsky holds the honour of having given the world the first truly successful Personal Digital Assistant. Before the all-pervasive smartphones that we rely on so much today, there was the seemingly forgotten Personal Digital Assistant.
Remember the Palm Pilot? It was the first PDA to be marketed worldwide and became a hit with consumers around the globe, particularly those in business. With a responsive electronic display screen and web browsing capability, this was every bit a precursor to the smartphone boom 10 years later. How many people can claim to have laid the groundwork for a market that now generates billions and touches the lives of so many?
At the time the Palm Pilot was released in 1997, and under Dubinsky’s leadership, the company’s beating of their rivals resulted in a market share of over 70%.
Mitchell Baker – The Mozilla Mastermind
After joining the legal department of Netscape Communications Corporation in the early 90s, Baker went on to become instrumental in the Mozilla project – starting with the role of General Manager in 1999, before becoming director and president of the Mozilla Foundation in 2003, and eventually being named as CEO of the newly launched Mozilla Corporation in 2005.
During this time, Baker was one of the foremost players in the development of some of the most prominent open source internet applications such as the Firefox web browser and the Thunderbird email client.
Baker remains an Executive Chairwoman of Mozilla today and was quite rightly inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame in 2012.
Susan Kare – The Dynamic Designer
Susan Kare is here to remind us that it’s not all about how the internet works, but much of our experience also comes down to how it looks – something she has played a bigger part in than most.
As a crucial member of the original design team for the Apple Macintosh in the 1980s, Kare designed many of the fonts and interface elements for the Macintosh in its infancy. In this period, she created well known and widely used fonts such as Chicago, Monaco and Venice. She also built a body of work that went on to influence, to varying degrees, icons that we use to this day on Apple devices and beyond. These include icons such as the grabber, paint bucket and lasso. Other notable works that Kare crafted for Apple are the ‘Happy Mac’ icon and the Command key symbol that appears on Mac keyboards.
Kare went on to do other amazing work for digital institutions as large and important as Microsoft, Facebook and Pinterest.
During the mid-’00s, she created several icons for Facebook’s ‘Gifts’ option, and the card deck for Windows 3’s Solitaire game, along with numerous other design elements of the same OS which remained until Windows XP came into the picture.
Most recently, Kare worked as product design lead for Pinterest from 2015 onwards, helping to build the platform’s creative branding. One thing’s for sure, the digital world would look very different without her.
Joan Ball – The Dating Revolutionary
Joan Ball was another whose big idea many years ago went on to create a thriving industry that continues to generate millions to this day. In 1964, Ball launched St. James Computer Dating Service, the first of its kind in the UK or US, providing the most fundamental building block for the then-fledgling online dating industry. Joan Ball’s dating service ran its first successful computer matches in the same year. Today, you won’t find many industries with a bigger online presence. As with the other women on this list, Joan Ball changed the game forever, effectively laying the groundwork for those who came after.
As you can see from the amazing achievements above, there are many women whose work needs to be recognised in any discussion on the history of all things online and digital. This is really just a small sample of the countless who created and built many of the things we take for granted in our daily dealings with technology and the internet. Without them, the digital world as we know it would not exist.