You may often find truly inspiring stories of real hardships and tremendous successes in the form of our Alumni blogs. Far from being a display of superiority, they are meant to serve as beacons of hope and possibility for all those who wish to achieve great things in life.
But throughout human history, there have been even greater examples of hard work and excellence whose legacies still permeate the very fiber of our being.
Today, let us look at some female visionaries who completely transformed the way we look at and interact with the world. Despite their similar capacity for brilliance, women lag far behind in terms of equal representation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields.
Far from being a difference in skill, the reasons for this disparity lie in many fold factors such as gender stereotypes, male-dominated cultures, lack of access, and importantly, lack of female role models.
So, let's take a look at some incredibly strong and determined women who overcame insurmountable obstacles to leave their imprint on the annals of history, as well as some who are still blazing trails for future generations, in the hopes that these words will serve as inspiration for the young minds out there just waiting to make their mark.
There’s no name more fitting to start off this list than one of the very first tech visionaries, Ada Lovelace herself. Born to Romantic poet, Lord Byron and the “Princess of Parallelograms” Annabella Byron, it was her mother that imbibed into Ada a penchant for arithmetic. Little did she know at the time that one day this would lead to the world knowing her daughter as the very first computer programmer.
Lovelace’s eventual rise to fame began at an unassuming party in London where she met the father of computer Charles Babbage himself. This culminated in Lovelace serving as a key interpreter to his “Analytical Engine”, considered by many as the first computer. When mathematician Luigi Federico Menabrea wrote a paper on the miraculous machine, Ada translated it into French, adding notes of her own. Her version came in at a whopping three times the original length, and serves as her most momentous contribution to computer science, lucidly evaluating the functioning of the engine.
As a tribute to her tremendous achievements, October 13 is observed as Ada Lovelace Day and highlights the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Rear Admiral Grace Hopper is a shining example for every young child, proving that a little bit of inquisitiveness and determination can help you achieve amazing things. Ever curious as a child, Hopper used to take apart household items and put them back together. Eventually, she earned her Masters and PhD in Mathematics from Yale University and joined the Navy. She was directly involved in creating the Mark I, a prototype for the electronic computer.
In fact, it was Hopper that coined the widespread term “bug” to denote a computer malfunction. She was part of the team that created UNIVAC, the first all-electronic digital computer and in time would co-develop COBOL, one of the preliminary standardised computer languages.
Founded in 1976, HCL has been a stalwart in India’s ascent as an IT hub. As such, it should be no surprise that the latest chairperson of HCL Technologies and CEO of HCL Corporation is an absolute powerhouse. She was ranked 52nd on Forbes’ list of the 100 most powerful women in the world (2021).
Alongside heading one of the leading technology conglomerates in the world and being the richest woman in India, she is also a Trustee of the Shiv Nadar Foundation. To date, the foundation has invested $1.1 billion for the creation of a more equitable, merit-based society by empowering individuals through transformational education to bridge the socio-economic divide.
Furthermore, she is a leading force behind VidyaGyan, a leadership academy seeking to nurture future leaders from the underprivileged, meritorious, rural students of Uttar Pradesh; as well as Habitats Trust, in order to protect India's natural habitats and indigenous species in to create and conserve sustainable ecosystems.
Susan’s work is the reason entire generations find liking and subscribe as their favourite pastime. The CEO of YouTube was initially an academic, earning a degree in history and literature. However, she developed a penchant for technology during her senior year at college, bagging a Master of Science degree in economics as well as a Master of Business Administration degree. Soon, opportunity literally came knocking as Susan rented her garage to Larry Page and Sergey Brin as office space, the soon-to-be founders of Google.
Wojcicki was Google’s first marketing manager, helping develop prominent tools like Google Images and Google Books. What’s more, it was at her behest that Google acquired YouTube, a competing video service to the then-nascent Google Video. And the rest is history as YouTube has gone on to transform the way people consume online video. Even major advertising and analytics products like AdWords and AdSense saw Wojcicki’s direct participation in their development. Suffice it to say, her work has directly touched the lives of millions of people.
‘The Most Beautiful Woman in Film’ has a legacy that expands far beyond her on-screen performances and seeps into almost every facet of our modern lives. Born in 1914 in Vienna, Hedy was an Austrian-American actress and pioneer who developed the technology which forms the basis of Wi-Fi, GPS, and even Bluetooth communication systems.
Owing to her charming personality on the silver screen, many are unaware of her massive contributions to the field of technology and science. This curious mix of inventor and artist comes courtesy of Lamarr’s peculiar childhood. Her father instilled a sense of curiosity in young Hedy, as he explained the inner workings of various machines on their walks together while her mother, a concert pianist, guided her daughter’s artistic development.
During 1940, with the threat of World War II looming nigh, a desire to help her country perturbed Hedy. She did not want to mint money as a Hollywood star on the sidelines while things were in such a dire state. Together with the composer George Antheil, she developed a system of guiding torpedoes via “frequency hopping” as the transmitter and receiver jumped to new targets together. Unfortunately, Lamarr’s invention never saw use in the war and most remained unaware of her incredible work. However, later years saw her awarded the Pioneer Award, and Invention Convention’s Bulbie Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award, and was also inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame after her death.
Radia’s work is the very reason it is possible for you to read this article online. Affectionately called the ‘Mother of the Internet, her work in the field of network communication stands as one of the most significant contributions to the history of computer science via an individual.
Born in 1951 in Portsmouth, Virginia, Radia was born to a mother who was both a mathematician and computer programmer and an engineer father. This unique parentage led to her imbibing both her parents’ abilities as young Perlman developed a fascination for maths and science.
She majored in mathematics at MIT and even earned a PhD in computer science. However, it wasn’t a smooth road for Perlman, as she found it difficult to write a thesis or even find an advisor. This is when an old friend offered her a job at BBN Technologies, innovating and designing network protocols as a software developer for network equipment. This led to a long career in the same field later on while working for DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) Radia developed the IS-IS protocol, which continues to serve as the foundation for network protocol today.
Dr. Perlman designed the Spanning Tree Protocol, the basic traffic rules for the internet. Allowing computers and devices to efficiently communicate in a network, earning her the title of the mother of the internet.
In recent times, the world has increasingly become an online global community, always connected with one another over the internet. However, such a world could only come about because of the hard work of various women making such a dream into a reality. Elizabeth Feinler was one such woman whose work laid the groundwork for future generations to build upon.
Born in 1931 in Wheeling, West Virginia, Feinler eminently worked on the predecessor to today’s internet, the ARPANET. Working then at the Network Information Centre, she created documentation in order to allow users to use the ARPANET effectively, even maintaining a directory for the constantly evolving network of computers as well as designing standards and documents for its effective use.
This work benefited a growing web of researchers conducting their own network experiments as well built upon their peer’s work. She was also involved with the Defense Data Network, both serving as the forerunners to today’s internet. In fact, one of her most significant contributions is one of the simplest, but accessing any website without it might be unimaginable. Elizabeth and her team came up with the domain naming scheme of .com, .gov, .org, .net, and .edu
For her work, she was inducted into the SRI Alumni Hall of Fame in 2000.
Born in 1975 in Illinois, Saujani has worn many hats during her illustrious career. From lawyer to politician to civil servant, she has done it all. You may notice the difference in her credentials from the rest of the people on this list; however, it’s not Saujani’s education or technological expertise that’s earned her a place on this list, but her work in the sphere of computer science education for underrepresented communities.
Whilst running for Congress in 2010, Saujani witnessed the stark gender gap in computing classes. This, coinciding with the lack of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) professions due to lack of access and exposure, led to her starting Girls Who Code in 2012.
Seeking to address the gender gap in the tech workforce, GWC has programs for grade 3 all the way through college and even has summer immersion and campus programs, online resources, books, after-school clubs and college alumni programs. The organisation works to inspire, teach, and endow young women with computing skills to pursue modern opportunities.
Till date Girls Who Code has served over 450,000 girls, many of whom belong to underrepresented communities comprising Black, Latina, and low-income girls. The organisation was awarded ‘Most Innovative Non-Profit’ by Fast Company and Saujani herself was featured in Fortune World’s Greatest Leaders; Fortune 40 Under 40; WSJ Magazine Innovator of the Year; Forbes Most Powerful Women Changing the World, among others.
Sheryl has been a key part of two of the biggest internet entities the world has ever seen, the massive American multinational company Google and the original social network, Facebook. She is an example of a rare individual who has been a source of inspiration to women worldwide and advocates for her own brand of female empowerment.
Born in 1969 in Washington, D.C, she graduated in economics from Harvard University in Cambridge and emerged as the top student in her class. She aided in the enormous task of helping developing nations with Chief Economist Lawrence Summers at the World Bank. With that stellar pedigree and a master’s in business administration, she joined Google in 2001. The search-engine company welcomed her as the general manager of its business unit. She would soon rise to the position of vice president of global online sales and operations and was placed in charge of the evolution of AdWords and AdSense.
Sandberg became Facebook’s first COO in 2008. There, she formulated an effective advertising strategy for the company, which allowed it to become profitable. So effective, in fact, that ad revenue increased by 37% in 2021, to a whopping $115 billion.
Sheryl advocates for women to be more aggressive in seeking success and to bridge “the ambition gap” in the business world.
Though this list may have come to an end, it isn’t by any means an exhaustive record of all women whose lives work transformed the lives of millions and more to come, there are many more whose stories lie patiently just waiting for you to discover them; similarly, there are many more inquisitive minds who would one day find a place in such a list. This list serves as a reminder, a reminder to be brave, a reminder to take a chance. Who knows, it might be you whose idea would change the world.