As part of our celebration of Women’s History Month, we asked the Vynyl team about the women in tech that have influenced them. This kicked off a lively Slack discussion of well-known tech figures as well as some of the team’s real-life personal heroes.
Software developer Reggie Melvin cites Mary Jackson as inspiration. Jackson worked at NASA as a mathematician and was the agency’s first Black female engineer. Her work was critical to the success of Project Mercury, NASA’s first manned space flight, and that part of her career was featured in the book and movie “Hidden Figures.” She was also a tireless advocate for women throughout her long career at NASA.
For developer Michelle Allred, English cryptanalyst Joan Clarke is a tech hero. She was a code-breaker during World War II and her efforts on the Enigma project broke the Nazis’ secret communications. Clarke was highly decorated and was appointed as a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1946.
Vynyl President & CEO Ian Harris named Grace Hopper, who was a computer scientist and rear admiral in the US Navy. She was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer and a pioneer in many early programming languages. Her work with FLOW-MATIC was extended to create COBOL, which is still in use today. There’s even a great children’s book celebrating her accomplishments called Grace Hopper, Volume 1: Queen of Computer Code. Vynyl developer Arron Mabrey noted that whenever Hopper’s name comes up, he’s reminded of this story about Grace Hopper and the first literal computer bug.
Janelle Lauzon, director of finance and HR, cites mathematician and writer Ada Lovelace as inspiration. Lovelace worked on the Analytical Engine, a mechanical computer first proposed by Charles Babbage in the 1830s. She also published the first algorithm, making her one of the first computer programmers. Another interesting fact: Lovelace’s father was the poet Lord Byron.
Software engineer Blair Gemmer is inspired by computer scientist and engineer Margaret Hamilton. She was best known in her role as director of the Software Engineering Division of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, where she was instrumental in developing the code for NASA’s Apollo mission. Hamilton also founded two software companies in the 1970s and ‘80s and is widely published in the field. In 2016 President Barack Obama awarded Hamilton the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She is one of the people credited with coining the term "software engineering".
Hedy Lamarr was an inspiration for executive assistant Paula Perez. Film buffs might know Lamarr as a prolific Golden Age actress, but she was also one of the inventors of frequency-hopping spread spectrum communication—originally designed as a guidance system for torpedoes. She also worked on aircraft aerodynamics for Howard Hughes, and her work in communications is evident in modern Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies.
CTO & Partner Erick Herring recalls his early experiences with tech being heavily influenced by women. He told us that he learned his first assembly language from a woman at the lab. “She photocopied some data sheets and the system operating manual after hours so I wouldn’t have to pay for it and she answered my questions when the machine acted differently than the documentation. In a real way, my whole career stems from that illicit photocopying.”
He also named several female mentors including Carter Tiernan, who was a staff engineer at The LTV Corporation and programming instructor at UT Arlington; and Karen Harbison Briggs, founder of the Center for Advanced Engineering Systems and Research—a “force of nature” according to Erick. He also cited a who’s-who of women programmers and scientists, as well as designer Susan Kare, who gave the original Macintosh its visual language, creating many of the original typefaces and graphics, including Clarus the dogcow.
For engineer Mike Ford, his high-school drafting teacher Mrs. Whetmore is a tech icon. Mike said “She taught us nerds how to build, fix, and network computers in the drafting class (BNC cabled networks FTW!) so we could play Descent during lunch. She really sparked my interest to pursue tech.”