Only 8 % of all the software developers in the world today are women. But did you know that the first programmers ever were a team of women? Not acknowledged for the contribution at the time, they were presented by the media as portrait models or ‘’refrigerator ladies''
The ENIAC computer, the first programmable general-purpose electronic digital computer , was built during the WWII by the United States for computing values for artillery range tables. And yes you read right: It was programmed by a team of six magnificent women.
During the WWII, the US was facing a shortage of engineers. .During the time the army posted several jobs for ‘’computer women’’ who would calculate artillery trajectories by hand. Until the ENIC computer was brought to life. But no one knew if it would work and how to operate it. A team of 6 women were hired from more than 200 ‘’women computers’’ from the Moore School of Electrical Engineering in Pennsylvania. Their task was to study the computers blueprints , do a lot of calculations and based on them to manipulate the wires and switches to provide the computations. Being a programmer or operator during that time was not considered a suitable job for women, and thus the work of the six women was undervalued in the media. In the press photos announcing milestones on computer progress, they were presented as screen models or ‘’refrigerator ladies’’ posing in front of the machine for the press.
Photo credits to ATOMIC OBJECT, Photo from the US Army
The computer was as big as a huge living room 15 by 9 meters (or 50 by 30 feet) and costed the US government almost half a million dollars. It was a monster machine of over 30t with more than 70 000 resistors, 6000 switches and by far the most complex electronic system built by that time. It was smart enough to execute 5000 additions per second( while the fastest computer today who can do 200 000 trillion calculations per second ).
ENIAC's first six programmers, Kay McNulty, Betty Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Wescoff, Fran Bilas and Ruth Lichterman developed such a great understanding of the machine that their jobs could not be in the end replaced by returning soldiers.
If you are ever at the Smithsonian Museum you can see the ENIAC in real life.
If you want to find out more about ‘’women computers’’ of the WWII there is a nice documentary Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of WWII available on iTunes, Amazon Prime, Google Play.
If you want to break the pattern of ‘’refrigerator ladies’’ and be up to date with tech follow me on www.technologyforher.com.