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

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Foreword

In 1966 there was already a “manpower” shortage of trained (or even untrained) programmers, operators, and software designers. The situation became a crisis when an estimated 50% more programmers would be needed by 1967.

It was an exciting time—the Mercury and Gemini programs sent humans into space and the Apollo program landed them on the Moon and returned them safely to Earth. The effort fulfilled President Kennedy’s goal when he said that “no single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

With this kind of presidential mandate, there were free-flowing funds in collecting the workers, and there were no barriers to race, religion, political leanings, or gender. Just about anyone who could pass an aptitude test, believed in the mission, and loved challenges in logical thinking was brought on board. The work was centered around the computers and the control systems that launched astronauts into space, and not on ambition or power—it was amazing that so many people could be coordinated and committed so that each person felt he/she had a part in the work. That gave us all a sense of pride.

I was lucky enough to join the ranks in 1965, when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and its subcontractors were hiring a cast of thousands. The desperate need was primarily a call to arms due to the Cold War and the race for ...

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