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Important Women in CS Who Aren't Grace Hopper

This post has been translated into Russian by Timur Kadirov. Thank you!

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.
Katherine Johnson
Did early work on automated control systems. Saved Apollo 13.
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
Pioneer in differential privacy. 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.

Thanks to Daiyi for proofing and everyone who had suggestions!