I’m tired of hearing about Grace Hopper, Margaret Hamilton, and Ada Lovelace. Can’t we think of someone else for once? I went ahead and compiled a bunch of really important women according to some fairly arbitrary rules:
There’s a specific thing you can point to and say “That. That’s their contribution.” This leaves out a lot of really qualified people who made lots of general contributions, but I wanted to keep this list fixed on soundbites.
Their contribution is technical in nature, not social or political. This means no milestones like “first woman PhD” (sorry Sister Keller) or orphan work that’s disconnected to our modern hellscape of a field.
They did significant “historical” or foundational work, which I arbitrarily took to be the last time Britain won Eurovision, so 1997. Of course there are modern giants like Stephanie Weirich and rising stars like Emina Torlak, but they’re out of scope.
I made exceptions when I felt like it because I can. Major caveats are 1) a lot of these people made contributions outside of my specialties so I probably made a bunch of mistakes, and 2) I left a lot of qualified people out because there were a lot of people and I got lazy. Consider this a sampler rather than an exhaustive list.
- Frances E Allen
- Pioneer in compiler optimization and parallel programming. Invented the control flow graph.
- Dana Angluin
- Pioneer in computational learning theory. Use of “positive results” in ML. Established membership query learning.
- Ruzena Bajcsy
- Pioneer in robotics. Invented “Active Perception” sensors.
- Lynn Conway
- Invented multi-project chip fab. Invented structured microchip design. Kicked off the VLSI revolution.
- Radhia Cousot
- Pioneer in static analysis. Invented abstract interpretation.
- Jean Sammet
- Part of the COBOL community. Developed FORMAC, the first symbolic computation language.
- Shafi Goldwasser
- Invented zero-knowledge crypto proofs. Developed the BG and GM provably-secure cryptosystems.
- Betty Holberton
- ENIAC programmer. Invented breakpoints.
- Karen Spärck Jones
- Pioneer in information retrieval. Invented the Inverse Document Frequency statistic.
- Nancy Leveson
- Pioneer in software safety research. Principal investigator on Therac-25. Broke N-version programming.
- Barbara Liskov
- Invented the Liskov Substitution Principle. Created the CLU programming language, which significantly influenced modern OOP and multi-paradigm languages. Invented Abstract Data Types.
- Nancy Lynch
- Pioneer in distributed systems. Proved FLP impossibility. Wrote Distributed Algorithms.
- Evi Nemeth
- “Mother of System Administration”. Wrote all the major books on Unix sysadmin.
- Radia Perlman
- Invented the Spanning-Tree Protocol.
- Patricia Selinger
- Foundational work in query optimization. Developed System R, the first SQL database.
- Latanya Sweeney
- Invented k-anonymity.
- Sophie Wilson
- Designed the ARM instruction set.
- Jeannette Wing
- Demonstrated practical use of formal stepwise refinement in large scale applications. Cocreated LSP with Liskov.
- Wang Xiaoyun
- Broke MD5. Broke SHA-0. Broke SHA-1.
- Pamela Zave
- Major expansion of requirements engineering. Developed formal methods for modeling feature interaction. Broke the Chord protocol. Fixed the Chord protocol. Wrote a book about Michael Jackson.