Mainstream media would have us believe that all of what we’ve come to know as the internet is a product of the hard work and dedication of an erudite group of men — this isn’t necessarily false, it just excludes the numerous women who also contributed to what has become one of the most valuable inventions yet. Women have always been involved in the inception and ongoing evolution of the digital sphere and the internet at large; and if you’re doubting this, here’s a list of five women who’ve had the greatest impact on the World Wide Web as we know it.
The internet is kind of synonymous with computers, and we can’t talk computers without acknowledging Ms Lovelace. She was researcher and assistant to Charles Babbage, the man now acclaimed for inventing the world’s first computer system. What’s often left unmentioned, is that Lovelace originally came up with the algorithm that this computer would later be based on. She also forged a model she termed “poetical science”, which theorised the way human thought and feelings are formed; which was useful much later in making computers more than just maths machines.
During the second World War, Grace Hopper made into the army despite being told she didn’t meet the minimum weight or age requirements. In 1944, she was assigned to a computer research bureau at Harvard University, where her work as a computer scientist peaked. There she created the first compiler, a system that translates source code into a different language, and coined the term ‘bug’ for a computer malfunction.
During the era of telephones and BBS (Bulletin Board System), Stacy created one of the first social media community forums called EchoNYC. Using a computer she’d borrowed, from her apartment in New York, Stacy created and ran the system, which garnered a lot of users between 1990 and 1998. Echo still exists, and surprisingly hasn’t changed one bit — it doesn’t use colour, and cannot accommodate picture, audio or video — but its users (mostly in their 50s and 60s) enjoy using it. Stacy’s also the accomplished author of Cyberville: Clicks, Culture and the Creation of an Online Town, a book about her experience in the tech industry during the early 90s.
In 1982, after graduating from Princeton, Marian Croak began working at Bell Technologies (now AT&T). She invented the VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) system, which basically allows people to make phone calls over the internet rather than using phone network connection. She left AT&T after an astounding 32 years of service in 2014, to work at Google as Vice President of research and development for access strategy and emerging markets.
With the rise of the internet and the subsequent demand for web developers, Heather Hesketh saw, and took full advantage of the opportunity to start the world’s first web design consultancy, Hesketh.com. She landed huge clients like Duke University and Oxford University Press, and her business method was later adopted by other emergent tech consultancies. Hesketh also created Enemielist — a widely used anti-spamming software.
Contrary to what romcom culture would have us believe, women’s interaction with the internet and gadgets isn’t limited to tutorials given by the males in their lives. If anything, women have been innovators and active participants in the growth and change of the digital sphere since its inception, and, with my peers and I as proof, they still are.