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Gender Codes: Why Women Are Leaving Computing by Thomas J. Misa

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Part I: Tools for Understanding

1

Gender Codes

Defining the Problem

THOMAS J. MISA

Women have passionately programmed computers for many decades. Ada Lovelace wrote abstract programs for calculating Bernoulli numbers on Charles Babbage’s mechanical computer, and six women mathematicians, known as human “computers,” created working programs for the ENIAC computer during the Second World War. In the 1950s the pioneering generation of computer science featured a surprising number of prominent women who led research teams, defined computer languages, and even pioneered the history of computing. The annual Grace Hopper celebration, named for the most prominent of these pioneering women computer scientists, offers “a four-day technical conference designed to bring the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront”[1]. More recently, Elizabeth “Jake” Feinler defined the top-level domain names—.com, .gov, .org—for the Internet. In 2006, Fran Allen, already the first female IBM Fellow, was the first woman to win the prestigious Turing Award from the Association for Computing Machinery, for her work in optimizing computer code. Two years later, Barbara Liskov was awarded the Turing Award for her foundational work on programming languages. The list of notable women in computing is sizable and expanding. It’s strange anyone would think that women don’t like computing.

Since the 1970s women have made impressive gains in professional life, but these gains did not extend ...

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