As a presenter, one of my favorite topics this year has been talking about the future of IT security. Where are we heading? What are the implications? What will IT security look like in the future?
If I could summarize all my recent sessions, I could show a wide chasm between attackers and defenders. Attackers have great financial motivation, with new income-siphoning sources, such as cryptojacking, complex supply chains (did you know there are over 6,000 marketplaces offering ransomware components?) and emerging support for machine learning-based attacks. Defenders, on the other hand, are not getting stronger; I wrote a separate blog post on this very topic just a few months ago.
One of my suggestions to close this gap (or at least narrow it) has been to get more women into cybersecurity. Today, about 90% of security experts in traditional enterprise businesses are men (companies that are primarily focused on security are doing a much better job).
I’ve recently heard some “arguments” opposing getting more women into cybersecurity, mostly talking about women as not being aggressive enough or not possessing the logical and analytical thinking required or questioning whether women are up to the task at all. All of these arguments are, of course, ridiculous.
Given the tenor of these questions, it might come as a surprise that the gender gap in IT is rooted more in societal pressures than it is in history. There is a hidden side of the history of computing—one that’s getting revealed, albeit slowly—where it’s women that helped to build the tech world as we know it and didn’t, as is so often the case, get the credit they deserve.
Let’s talk about few of these unsung heroes.
Who was the first programmer?
Sometimes, emotions can change the course of history. What happens when your mother falls in love with a great poet, but instead of living “happily ever after,” he abandons her—and you—never to return, one month after you were born?
Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Romantic poet Lord Byron, is often regarded as the first person (not just the first woman) to recognize the full potential of a “computing machine” and as the first computer programmer.
As she grew up, she focused on mathematics and logic and, in 1842, Ada was asked to translate an article about Charles Babbage’s engine into English and took the extra step of including her own notes in her work. In the end, her notes were three times longer than the article, itself, and contained a first programming code algorithm to calculate Bernoulli numbers. Today, Ada Lovelace is celebrated as a role model and we celebrate her contributions to technology on Ada Lovelace Day.
You could argue that Ada Lovelace created a programming language for a computer that was never built. If seeing a programming language in a working computer is a criterion for success, we need only look to the first commercially successful computer ever built: ENIAC.
ENIAC—the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer—was programmed by a group called “The First Programmers Club”: an all-female team led by Betty Snyder-Holberton and that included Kay McNulty, Betty Jennings, Marlyn Meltzer, Fran Bilas, and Ruth Lichterman. The group, when seen posing in front of the computer they had programmed, were thought to be just models—what some called “refrigerator girls”—rather than being recognized for their work.
Who created the first low-level programming language?
The case of the “First Programmers Club” is indicative of the time: Men were, typically, only interested in building hardware, while women took care of the intricate parts of developing software. Another example of this is Kathleen Booth, the inventor of the assembly language and the first assembler. She would often work with her husband, Andrew Booth, who would build machines, while she programmed them.
Assembly languages eliminated much of the error-prone and labor-intensive programming that was required for first generation of computers. Low-level programming languages still had strong binding to underlying computer architecture and were not easily portable. For that, someone needed to invent the first high-level programming language.
Who created the first high-level programming language?
This is where I get to talk about my favorite computing heroine, the amazing Grace Hopper (and yes, I have her picture on one of my favorite t-shirts). Grace Hopper took a revolutionary approach toward computer programming – instead of using numbers (as everyone before her had done), she wanted to use words to communicate with computers. This led to creation of the first compiler, the development of COBOL language, and gave way to the rise of high-level programming languages as we know them today.
The idea that programming code could be written in English and that a compiler could understand those words completely changed the adoption of computers.
But wait! There’s more! Did you know that Grace Hopper achieved the rank of Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy? It’s true. At the time of her retirement, she was the oldest active duty officer in the U.S. Navy. She was awarded 40 honorary degrees from universities around the world, a guided-missile destroyer (the U.S.S. Hopper) and a Cray supercomputer (the Cray XE6 Hopper) were named for her. Pretty cool for a lady that was first rejected by the Navy because of her age and low weight!
She also came up with a phrase that is part of our daily lives, even today. In 1947, while troubleshooting an issue with a Mark II computer, she and her colleagues found a moth that was stuck in the relay. Realizing that this bug was what had been causing all the problems they’d been experiencing, they “debugged” the machine, and the rest is history.
Who created the first object-oriented language?
So far, we’ve talked about low-level and high-level programming languages – but what about object-oriented languages? This one is a bit more complicated and it’s something usually attributed to “Alan Kay and others.” One of these “others” is Adele Goldberg, a researcher from Xerox Palo Alto.
She worked on the concept of overlapping windows on graphic display screens – and if you’re now thinking about the modern graphical user interfaces (GUI) that we use today, you are right on the money. Do you know the story of Steve Jobs and his team visiting Xerox to see the Smalltalk System (it’s nothing short of legendary in Silicon Valley)? Shortly afterward, inspired by the storied visit, the Apple “Lisa” was released, followed by Windows 1.0 just a few months later.
These are just a few examples of the work that has been done by women in the computer industry – often shrouded in terms like “and others” or “and team,” not getting the credit they deserve and have earned. And we’ve only just scratched the surface of the contributions of women in tech. There are plenty of others that we haven’t mentioned here, such as Carol Shaw, creator of River Raid (one of my favorite games while growing up), Lynn Conway, who became a distinguished computer scientist as both a man and a woman, or the actress, Hedy Lamarr, who developed a radio guidance system that was later used in Bluetooth and WiFi technologies.
It’s time to bring women back to IT, time to forget about prejudices and preconceived notions that women are not good at math and science. Here at Citrix, we have amazing female role models all across the company, from engineers and developers to marketers, communications experts, designers, cybersecurity experts, CTPs (I’m looking at you, Jo Harder, Esther Bartel, and Theresa Miller), and every place in between. The company is taking part in some other great initiatives, too, such as CUGC’s WIT (Women in Tech) group, Girls Who Code, and more. We recognize that this is only a start and that there is much more to do. Happily, Citrix—as do I—stands ready to tackle the challenge head-on.