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Celebrating International Women’s Day 2021

March 8, 2021

On International Women’s Day, we honour and celebrate the incredible achievements of women – especially those who have contributed to the fields of science and technology.

Did you know the world’s first general-purpose electronic computer made its debut 75 years ago? The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) could be programmed to perform complex sequences of operations.

It was used to calculate an artillery shell’s trajectory in a matter of seconds, which was far faster than the 20 hours it would take to determine the same calculation manually.

The original six programmers of ENIAC were women! Kay McNulty, Betty Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Meltzer, Fran Bilas, and Ruth Lichterman had a deep understanding of ENIAC’s complex inner workings, including how to input programs and locate bugs.

The women physically operated the computer program using 3,000 switches, along with dozens of cables and digital trays, to physically route data and program pulses.

While ENIAC was a big influence on the growth of electronic computing, the six women weren’t recognized for their work. It would be decades before they were finally acknowledged and gained their rightful place in the history of computer technology.

Despite advances in technology and the fight for equality in the workplace, women are still widely underrepresented in technology roles. It’s estimated women make up almost half of employed adults in Canada and the United States, but only about 25 per cent of work in the tech sector.

The women behind ENIAC demonstrate that women are key to the success and growth of the tech sector. As such, we must strive to make space for women in the industry, and clearly encourage girls and young women everywhere that success in tech is within their reach.

Sources:

CBC News:

https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/diversity-tech-jobs-pringle-1.4528149

ETHW:

https://ethw.org/Marlyn_Meltzer

NCWIT:

https://www.ncwit.org/sites/default/files/resources/ncwit_women-in-it_2016-full-report_final-web06012016.pdf

Penn Today:

https://penntoday.upenn.edu/news/eniacs-anniversary-nod-its-female-computers

https://penntoday.upenn.edu/news/worlds-first-general-purpose-computer-turns-75