The women are (still) here

Cover of cs4fn bumper issue "The women are here"

Click on the magazine cover to get a pdf copy of the magazine.

Too important to be left to men

Women have been at the forefront of computer science and electronic engineering from the outset. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t but if it does it’s probably due in great part to the power of stereotypes. Too many girls have believed the stereotypes, which just leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fortunately many ignore them and are continuing to be as successful as the women of history.

Here we celebrate some of the great women of the past, highlight the work of current top researchers and also profile some students who are set to continue the trend. Women may not always shout about their achievements, but boy do they do it well!

As leading computer scientist Karen Spärk Jones said: “Computing is too important to be left to men”.

See also: our free posters for you to download at the end of this post.

What the real Pros say

Here is what some (female) computer scientists and electronic engineers said that they most liked about their job and the subject.… (read on)

Sabine Hauert: Swarm engineer

Sabine Hauert is a swarm engineer. She is fascinated by the idea of making use of swarms of robots. Watch a flock of birds and you see that they have both complex and beautiful behaviours that help them evade predators, for example. Sabine’s team are exploring how we can solve our own engineering problems: from providing communication networks in a disaster zone to helping treat cancer, all based on the behaviours of swarms of animals.. … (read on)

Mary Coombs, teashops and Leo the computer

Tea shops played a big role in the history of computing. J. Lyons & Co. bought one of the first computers to use for payroll. Except they had a problem. Their computer needed programs and the job of programmer didn’t exist. One person they found, Mary Coombs, became the first female commercial programmer. … (read on)

Inspiring Wendy Hall

Woman's manicured hand pointing a remote control at a large screen television on the opposite wall in a spacious modern room with white minimal furnishing.

What inspires researchers to dedicate their lives to study one area? In the case of computer scientist Dame Wendy Hall it was a TV programme called Hyperland starring former Dr Who Tom Baker and writer Douglas Adams of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame that inspired her to become one of the most influential researchers of her area. … (read on)

Christine Farion: Smart Bags

In our stress-filled world with ever increasing levels of anxiety, it would be nice if technology could sometimes reduce stress rather than just add to it. That is the problem that QMUL’s Christine Farion set out to solve for her PhD. She wanted to do something stylish too, so she created a new kind of bag: a smart bag … (read on)

Polina Bayvel: The optical pony express

Cowboys/girls on horses galloping

Suppose you want to send messages as fast as possible. What’s the best way to do it? That is what Polina Bayvel, a Professor at UCL has dedicated her research career to: exploring the limits of how fast information can be sent over networks. It’s not just messages that it’s about nowadays of course, but videos, pictures, money, music, books – anything you can do over the Internet. (read on)

Jean Bartik: ENIAC

Four of the 42 panels that made up ENIAC.
Four of the 42 panels which made up ENIAC – via Wikipedia.

Jean Bartik (born Betty Jean Jennings) was one of six women who programmed “ENIAC” (the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), one of the earliest electronic programmable computers built in the 1940s. Their contribution went largely unrecognised for 40 years (read on)

Hidden Figures: NASA’s brilliant calculators

NASA Langley was the birthplace of the U.S. space program where astronauts like Neil Armstrong learned to land on the moon. Everyone knows the names of astronauts, but behind the scenes a group of African-American women were vital to the space programme: Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan… (read on)

Jiayu Song and Maria Liakata: Opinions, opinions, opinions

Multicoloured speech bubbles with a colourful cross-hairs target in the centre

Social media is full of people’s opinions, whether about politics, movies, things they bought, celebrities or just something in the news. However, sometimes there is just too much of it. Sometimes, you just want an overview. PhD student Jiayu Song is working on automatically summarising opinions with her supervisor, Professor Maria Liakata. It is all about finding a point that represents the “central” meaning… (read on)

Blanca Rodriguez: Understanding matters of the heart

Colourful depiction of a human heart

Ada Lovelace mused that one day we might be able to create mathematical models of the human nervous system, essentially describing how electrical signals move around the body. University of Oxford’s Blanca Rodriguez is interested in matters of the heart. She’s a bioengineer creating accurate computer models of human organs… (read on)

Joyce Wheeler: the life of a star

Exploding star

The first computers transformed the way research is done. One of the very first computers, EDSAC, contributed to the work of three Nobel prize winners: in Physics, Chemistry and Medicine. Astronomer, Joyce Wheeler was an early researcher to make use of the potential of computers to aid the study of other subjects in this way… (read on)

Lourdes Agapito: Making sense of squishiness

Look out the window at the human-made world. It’s full of hard, geometric shapes – our buildings, the roads, our cars. They are made of solid things like tarmac, brick and metal that are designed to be rigid and stay that way. The natural world is nothing like that though. Things bend, stretch and squish. That provides a whole bunch of fascinating problems for computer scientists like Lourdes Agapito to solve…. (read on)

Jacquie Lawson: the multi-million pound greeting

There is real money to be made out there in the virtual world – if you are willing to put in the effort to develop appropriate skills.

You don’t have to be young or a geek either. At the age of 62, grandmother Jacquie Lawson turned a hobby into a multi-million pound business…(read on)

Daphne Oram: the dawn of music humans can’t play

Daphne Oram was one of the earliest musicians to experiment with electronic music, and was the first woman to create an electronic instrument. She realised that the advent of electronic music meant composers no longer had to worry about whether anyone could actual physically perform the music they composed… (read on)

Ingrid Daubechies: Wiggly lines help catching crime

Pulse signal on a spherical monitor surface

Mathematicians who are interested in computing and how to make practical use of their maths are incredibly valuable. Ingrid Daubechies is like that. Her work has transformed the way we store images and much besides. She works on the maths behind digital signal processing – how best to manipulate things like music and images in computers. It boils down to wiggly lines...(read on)

Polona Tomašic: only the fittest slogans survive

Being creative isn’t just for fun. Marketing folk are paid vast amounts to come up with slogans for products and soundbites to turn an election. Coming up with great slogans needs a mastery of language and a creative streak. Algorithms are in on the act…(read on)

Bonnie John & Annie Lu Luo: Cognitive Crash Test Dummies

Cartoon showing a crash test dummy in a sitting position.

Wherever you turn people are using gadgets, and those gadgets are guzzling energy – energy that we desperately need to save. We are all doomed, doomed…unless of course a hero rides in on a white charger to save us from ourselves. That is where cognitive crash dummies come in! It is the idea of Bonnie John, and Annie Lu Luo: designing tools to predict in advance which interface designs are easiest to use but also how much energy different designs will use … (read on)

Hedy Lamarr: The movie star, the piano player and the torpedo

Hedy Lamarr was a movie star. Back in the 1940’s, in Hollywood’s Golden Age, she was considered one of the screen’s most beautiful women and appeared in several blockbusters. But Hedy was more than just good looks and acting skills. Even though many people remembered Hedy for her pithy quote “Any girl can be glamorous. All she has to do is stand still and look stupid”, at the outbreak of World War 2 she and composer George Antheil invented an encryption technique for a torpedo radio guidance system! … (read on)

Shafi Goldwasser and the Zero Knowledge Proof

A vortex of books

Shafi Goldwasse, one of the greatest living computer scientists, won the Turing Award in 2012 (equivalent to a Nobel Prize). Her work helped turn cryptography from a dark art into a science. If you’ve ever used a credit card through a web browser, for example, her work was helping you stay secure. Her greatest achievement, with Silvio Micali and Charles Rackoff, is the “Zero knowledge proof”…. (read on)

Ada Lovelace and the music machine

Charles Babbage found barrel organs so incredibly irritating that he waged a campaign to clear them from the streets, even trying to organise an act of parliament to have them banned. He hated the irritating noise preventing him from concentrating. His hatred, however, may have led to Ada Lovelace’s greatest idea … (read on)

Ada Lovelace in her own words

Charles Babbage invented wonderful computing machines. But he was not very good at explaining things. That’s where Ada Lovelace came in. She is famous for writing a paper in 1843 explaining how Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine worked – including a big table of formulas which is often described as “the first computer program”… (read on)

Edith Windsor: gay marriage

US Supreme court building
Image by Mark Thomas from Pixabay

Edie Schlain Windsor, who was a senior systems engineer at IBM and founding president of a software consulting company, led the landmark Supreme Court Case (United States versus Windsor) that led to gay marriage becoming legal in the US…. (read on)

Jane Webb: The Mummy in an AI world

Inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, 17-year old Victorian orphan, Jane Webb secured her future by writing the first ever Mummy story. The 22nd century world in which her novel was set is perhaps the most amazing thing about the three volume book though. Her world included AIs there doing good as standard for the first time…. (read on)

Rebecca Stewart and Sophie Skach: Let buttons be buttons

We are used to the idea that we use buttons with electronics to switch things on and off, but Rebecca Stewart and Sophie Skach decided to use real buttons in the old-fashioned sense of a fashionable way to fasten up clothes….. (read on)

Susan Kare: Icon Draw

GUIs changed the way we use computers. A key idea was to click on icons not type commands creating the design principle of “recognition rather than recall”. That needs instantly recognised icons to work…Susan Kare was responsible for creating them… (read on)

Mary Shelley: Pass the screwdriver, Igor

The head of Frankenstein's monster (classic style)

Shortly after Ada Lovelace was born, and long before she made predictions about future “creative machines”, Mary Shelley, a friend of her father (Lord Byron), was writing a novel. In her book, Frankenstein, inanimate flesh is brought to life. Perhaps Shelley foresaw what is actually to come, what computer scientists might one day create: artificial life… (read on)

Julie Freeman: Naked mole-rats go digital

A naked mole-rat with a privacy bar over its eyes

Where does a naked mole-rat wear its computing gadgetry? Under its skin….One colony wear tags to allow their behaviour to be studied despite them living permanently underground. Julie Freeman turned their data into interactive art… (read on)

Rebel with a cause: Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale is known for her nursing, in the Crimean War. She rebelled against convention to become a nurse when nursing was seen as a lowly job, not suitable for ‘ladies’. She broke convention in another less well-known, but much more significant way too. She was a mathematician and pioneered the use of pictures to present her statistical data about causes of war deaths and issues of sanitation and health: a Victorian version of the Big Data revolution … (read on)

Temple Grandin: The Devil is in the Detail: Lessons from Animal Welfare

Several cows poking their heads through railings to look at the camera.

What can Computer Scientists learn from a remarkable woman and the improvements she made to animal welfare and the meat processing industry? Temple Grandin is an animal scientist – an animal welfare specialist and a remarkable innovator on top. She has extraordinary abilities that allow her to understand animals in ways others can’t … (read on)

We have 10 free, colourful posters celebrating Women in Computing for your classroom or corridors.

The 10 Women in Computing posters – free to download

This blog is funded by EPSRC on grant EP/W033615/1.