A history of the major role women played in creating the internet and the computer industry.
Long before there were machines called computers, women worked as “computers,” performing complex mathematical computations by hand for the U.S. Naval Observatory and other entities. When male engineers designed the first computing machines, using relays and switches and then vacuum tubes, they hired these same women to become the operators and programmers of the machines. Evans, the former futures editor of VICE’s Motherboard and founding editor of its sci-fi imprint, Terraform, tells the fascinating story of how these highly intelligent, mathematically astute women were pioneers in a new field integral to the rise of the computer age. Since there were no training manuals, they had to figure out how the Mark I or the ENIAC computers worked by studying the hardware. Then they invented the software to run them and went back and wrote the training manuals for others to use. They wrote code, created ballistic trajectories for the war effort during World War II, invented the languages used by microprocessors today, designed searchable databases that were used to connect people across the country, and figured out a standard addressing format, which has led to the billions of .com, .org, .gov designations found online today. Throughout, the author consistently demonstrates how often these women were overlooked when it came time to acknowledge who had performed the work; they were the silent, behind-the-scenes workers who were underpaid and ignored when accolades were due. “Again and again,” she writes, “women did the jobs nobody thought were important, until they were.” Thankfully, Evans provides an informative corrective, giving proper due to these women and their invaluable work.
An edifying and entertaining history of the rise of the computer age and the women who made it possible. A good choice for fans of Hidden Figures.