At Science, Education, and Society, the Urban Scientist
posts a meme to name five women scientists from each of a list of fields. Sadly, my fields are left off the list. So I’ll respond in my own way
by adding computer science. This is a very idiosyncratic list – it’s women
who are particularly important to my own experience as a student and later
practitioner of computer science.
It’s worth noting that I’ve got a very atypical experience as a computer
scientist, in that many of the most influential people in my
career have been women. That’s very unusual, given the incredibly skewed
ratio of men to women in computer science. But as an undergraduate student,
a graduate student, and a professional researcher, the majority of people who had a great influence on my education and career have been women.
- Fran Allen. In a list of women in computer science, Fran has to
be at the top. (I’ve met Fran Allen personally, and she told me
to call her Fran.) Fran was the first woman to earn the Turing award – and
the only real question concerning her getting it is why the hell it took
so long. I used to work at IBM Research, where Fran also works, but I knew
about her long before I went there. Fran is one of the people who
created the field of compilers. I had the amazing good
fortune to meet Fran on several occasions, and she’s one of the
most pleasant, interesting people that I’ve ever spoken to. She’s also
an incredibly active advocate for women in math and science, and her
tireless effort has probably brought more women into the field than
anyone else. (Yes, when it comes to Fran, I am pretty much a drooling
fanboy. Fran is my idol :-). If in my career, I can accomplish 1/50th
of what Fran did, I’ll be a very proud and happy person.)
- Grace Murray Hopper. Admiral Grace Murray Hopper was one of the designers of the
Cobol programming language. You could make an argument about whether
Adm. Hopper or Fran Allen really deserved to be the first woman to earn
the Turing award. Personally, having heard her talk a few times, I don’t
think she held a candle to Fran. But it’s undeniable that she played
a crucial, formative role in the creation of what become computer
science and software engineering.
- Ada Lovelace. You can’t fairly talk about women in computer science
without mentioning Lady Ada Lovelace. She was, arguably, the first
- Jeanne Ferrante. Professor Ferrante once worked at IBM, but left before I
got there. I’ve never gotten to meet her. But she wrote one of the first
static analysis papers that I ever read, which had a whole lot to do with what
I’ve ended up doing with my life.
- Barbara Ryder. Barbara is a professor at my undergraduate alma mater.
I never had the good fortune to take a class taught by her, but I got
to know her anyway. She’s one of the leading researchers in static analysis,
and her students are some of the leading lights in compilers, programming
languages, static analysis, and compiler optimization. She’s also one
hell of a tough person, who’s done an amazing amount to fight to get
women involved in computer science.
This list leaves off some women who’ve played major roles in my life and career. Like, for instance, my wife, who is a brilliant computational linguist (smarter and a better researcher than I am); my PhD advisor, Lori Pollock, who is an amazing researcher and
the best advisor a student could ask for; my academic grandmother,
Mary Lou Soffa; and one of my favorite current researchers in
software engineering, Gail Murphy.