In honor of International Women’s Day, we asked several of our women engineers here at New Relic to name the women scientists, engineers, and trailblazers who motivated them to pursue a career in technology. They chose inspirational figures from the fields of medicine, computing, astrophysics, and more—some well known and others worth learning more about.
Elizabeth Blackwell, medical pioneer
(chosen by Belinda Runkle, senior director of engineering)
Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States, as well as the first woman on the U.K. Medical Register. She was a driving force in promoting women’s education in the medical field in the 1800s. In the early 1850s Blackwell established her own practice in New York City, where she supported nursing efforts alongside her sister during the American Civil War.
Says Belinda: “When I was eight years old I had a rabbit named ‘Elizabeth Blackwell.’ Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman doctor—somehow that struck me as important even at age eight.”
The Women of ENIAC
(chosen by Yvonne Wassenaar, New Relic CIO)
In 1946 six brilliant young women programmed the first all-electronic, programmable computer, the ENIAC, a secret project run by the U.S. Army in Philadelphia during World War II. While the men were interested in and focused on building the hardware, the women were assigned what was considered the less interesting job at the time, which was connecting the circuits. As part of their job, these women learned to program without programming languages or tools (for none existed)—only logical diagrams. By the time the women were finished, ENIAC ran a ballistics trajectory perfectly.
Says Yvonne: “When the ENIAC was unveiled to the press and the public in 1946, the women were never introduced and their story was lost for decades. Instead, it was the men who were celebrated and the women drifted off to have careers in computer science. In 1997, the story of these amazing women became publicly acknowledged when the six women who did most of the programming of ENIAC were inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame.”
Sally Ride, physicist and astronaut
(chosen by Rebecca Campbell, senior software engineering manager)
Sally Ride made history as the first American woman in space. Ride went on two missions on Space Shuttle Challenger and spent more than 343 hours in space. Following her time at NASA, she worked at Stanford University’s International and Security Arms Control and later taught physics at the University of California, San Diego.
Says Rebecca: “My influences were Sally Ride and Christa McAuliffe. I remember thinking how cool they were. They showed that women could fly alongside men and boldly go where no woman has gone before.”
Katie Cunningham, open source advocate
(chosen by Laura Cassell, Program Manager)
Katie Cunningham is a Python and Django developer and author with a passion for accessibility and compliance. She previously worked for NASA and is an avid speaker and organizer for open source groups in the Washington, D.C., area.
Says Laura: “It was her blog posts on how to make a game in Python that showed me that women were doing neat stuff with code … she’s pretty much my idol.”
Grace Hopper, Navy admiral and computer programmer
(chosen by Virginette Acacio)
Aptly named “Amazing Grace,” Grace Hopper was a U.S. Navy Rear Admiral and computer scientist who is credited with the development of COBOL. She is the first woman to reach the rank of admiral in the U.S. navy, and also the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale University. She famously coined the term “debugging” and is one of the first programmers on the Harvard Mark I computer used during World War II.
As a kid, I vividly remember seeing a photo of Grace Hopper on the cover of Time magazine and being fascinated by her military regalia and eager to learn more about her life and accomplishments. Along with my grandmother—who worked for an early Silicon Valley technology company in the seventies after emigrating to the United States from the Philippines—women with careers in technology like Grace Hopper fascinated me when I was younger, and are probably what inspired me to work in the industry myself.
Photo credits: Elizabeth Blackwell: National Library of Medicine; Women of ENIAC: U.S. Army photo; Sally Ride: NASA; Grace Hopper: James S. Davis – U.S. Navy. All photographs in the public domain. Mountain climber image courtesy of Shutterstock.com.