WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH: WOMEN WHO CREATE
In honor of Women’s History Month, we are kicking off a new blog series! This is the first of four weekly installments in which we will highlight important female figures in history. Every week, we will be focusing on three of the many incredible women who have contributed to the technology and gaming industries.
This week, we’re celebrating women who create. These women defied stereotypes in the 1970s and 1980s and went on to make many fundamental contributions to the industry.
Jean E. Sammet: Created One of the First Computer Languages
By the age of seven, a young Jean fell in love with “that number stuff.” She received her B.A. in mathematics in 1948 from Mount Holyoke College and a Master’s degree from the University of Illinois in 1949. When looking in the newspaper for jobs for women, she applied to be an actuary – one of the few jobs listed that wasn’t in housekeeping or nursing.
In 1968, she was the first woman to be awarded a Ph.D. in computer science. When working as a mathematician for Sperry Corporation, her supervisor asked if she would like to become a programmer for a new digital computer.
“What’s a programmer?” she asked. His reply: “I don’t know, but I know we need one.”
Little did she know, this moment would lead to a long and successful future of programming, during which she created FORMAC (Formula Manipulation Compiler), an early computer algebra system that supported computation, manipulation and use of symbolic expressions. She became the first female president of the Association for Computing Machinery and was a key member on the committee that created COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language), which is used today both commercially and in military communication.
Radia Perlman: Mother of the Internet
Although she also enjoyed the arts, Radia Perlman had been drawn to science and math from a very young age. Throughout most of her education, she didn’t realize that she was one of the only women in the field. At MIT, she developed a child-friendly robotics language, and in 1988 she obtained a B.S. and M.S. in mathematics and a Ph.D. in computer science from MIT. While working for Digital Equipment Corporation, she created the Spanning Tree Protocol, which is fundamental to the operation of network bridges.
Perlman says, “The protocol is really very simple, I can summarize it in a poem!”
This protocol revolutionized the way internet works, allowing larger clouds to be supported and more robust systems to be built. She went on to create many protocols that improved her previous spanning trees, contributed vastly to areas of network design, and held over 100 patents.
Amy Briggs: Creator of the First Adventure Game with a Female Lead
Amy Briggs was born in 1962 in Minnesota, and in 1984 she graduated from Macalester College with a degree in English. She then moved to Boston, joking that Infocom must be in need of writers and editors – and much to her surprise, they did. Two weeks later, she was working as a game tester.
In 1987, she fought to create her own game. Inspired by Jane Austen, she wanted a female hero. After some persuasion, she finally gained approval for “Plundered Hearts,” the first romance video game with a female lead!
“C. S. Lewis said he had to write The Chronicles of Narnia because they were books he wanted to read, and nobody else had written them yet. ‘Plundered Hearts’ was a game I wanted to play.”
All three of these women were revolutionary in male-dominated fields. From the beginning they decided to do what they loved, and excelled in these pursuits. Here at Skillz, we support women, and are trying to clear a path for women in the male-dominated gaming and technology industries. In fact, we are the first eSports or gaming company to sign the ParityPledge to support gender equality in leadership positions.
Don’t forget to check in next week for the second of our Women’s History Month blog posts!