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Did You know ? 08/03/2021

Portraits of 4 pioneer women in the field of IT

Since 2013, the feminisation of IT professions has been a priority for ENGIE IT, which is committed to concrete and innovative actions! ENGIE IT has now reached 30% of women in its workforce.On the occasion of the International Women's Rights Day, ENGIE IT offers you a special article dedicated to women  who were pioneers in the field of IT. Discover the portraits of those who have left their mark on IT: Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, Hedy Lamarr and Margaret Hamilton.

Ada Lovelace,  1815-1852

Countess of Lovelace, born Ada Byron. Pioneer of computer science: "the world's first programmer".

Ada Lovelace is famous for having created the first real computer program, during her work on an ancestor’s computer: the Charles Babbage's analytical machine.

As early as 1842, Ada Lovelace designed this program with the simple supervision of Charles Babbage. In her notes is the first published program intended to be run by a machine. She also glimpsed and described some of the possibilities offered by universal calculators, going far beyond numerical calculation and what her contemporaries imagined.

Ada Lovelace and her work were unearthed with the advent of computers. And it was in her honour that the programming language designed between 1977 and 1983 for the US Department of Defense (DoD) was called "Ada".

Ada Lovelace gave her name to the first feminist computer science school, Ada Tech School, created in 2019 in Paris. We can also see her portrait on the authentication holograms of Microsoft products.


Grace Hopper, 1906 - 1992

Computer scientist: designer of the 1st compiler (A-O System) and of the COBOL language.

As early as 1943, Grace Hopper joined the US Navy as a lieutenant, and the following year she was assigned to Harvard University's Bureau of Ordonance Computation Project as part of the Harvard Mark I Project. She was part of the first group of three people learning how to program it. At the end of the Second World War, she continued to work on the development of the Harvard Mark II and the Harvard Mark III computers.

In 1949, Grace Hopper was employed by Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation (EMCC) and joined the team developing UNIVAC I in Philadelphia. The following year, Grace Hopper designed the first compiler for UNIVAC I, named A-0 System.

From 1957, she worked for IBM, where she promoted the idea that a program should be written in a language close to English rather than machine language: from this idea was born the COBOL language in 1959. During the 1970s, she led the work of setting standards for computers, in particular the first advanced programming languages: Fortran and COBOL.

Grace Hopper remained in the Navy until 1986, when she was the oldest officer in the US Navy and was awarded the rank of Rear Admiral (lower half).

She is buried with military honours at Arlington National Cemetery in 1992.


 Hedi Lamarr, 1914 - 2000

Actress, producer, inventor: co-inventor of a coding system currently in use for military encrypted links, mobile telephony, GPS or Wi-Fi technology.

The Hollywood-based Viennese actress played under the direction of some of the greatest directors of the time and was called the "most beautiful woman in the world" in her day. But in addition to her career in the cinema, she also made scientific history in the field of telecommunications!  

In June 10, 1941, Hedi Lamarr and George Antheil filed the patent for their invention the "secret communication system" with the aim of helping the Allies. This patent entitled Secret communication system describes a system of simultaneous variation of the frequencies of the transmitter and receiver, according to the same recorded code (the medium used being perforated strips inspired by the cards of mechanical pianos), where Antheil gives full credit for the functionality part to Hedi Lamarr, specifying that his work on the patent was merely technical. However, the idea was so innovative that the US Navy did not immediately grasp its importance and did not put it into practice.  

As early as the 1950s, this technique was used in a project to detect submarines by aircraft, and it was also used during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 and during the Vietnam War. This device has also been deployed by manufacturers of transmission equipment since the 1980s: for most mobile phones, for satellite positioning (GPS, GLONASS, etc.), for encrypted military links, for space shuttle communications with the ground, as well as for mobile telephony or in Wi-Fi technology! 

Hedi Lamarr was only recognised for his invention in 1973 on the first "National Inventor's Day". In 1997, she received the award from the American Electronic Frontier Foundation for her contribution to society.

In the 2000s, she became the symbol of innovation and her genius was celebrated. In 2003, she appeared on the front cover of Dignifying Science: Stories About Women Scientists. 

In 2014, the "most beautiful woman in film" and pianist George Antheil are posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.  


Margaret Heafield Hamilton, 1936 - 

Computer scientist, systems engineer and American company manager: Director of the software engineering department which designed the on-board system for the Apollo space program.

Computer scientist, systems engineer and American company manager: Director of the software engineering department which designed the on-board system for the Apollo space program, Margaret Hamilton studied mathematics at the University of Michigan in 1955, before earning her Bachelor of Mathematics degree from Earlham College in 1958.  She chose to go to MIT in 1960 to develop computer programs for weather forecasting on LGP-30 and PDP-1 computers. 

In 1963, she joined MIT's Charles Stark Draper Laboratory where she worked on missions for NASA's Apollo program on on-board software for spacecraft to support navigation and landing on the Moon. She became head of the team responsible for the development of the embedded software used by the Apollo and then Skylab missions.  

She innovates in the field of the flight program construction process and development environment, standardising and rationalising these processes in all development phases. The quality of the programs developed under its supervision played a crucial role during the Apollo 11 mission, notably in avoiding an interruption in the landing of the Apollo lunar module on the Moon. 

From 1976 to 1984, Hamilton co-founded with Sayden Zeldin the company Higher Order Software developing the USE.IT program based on HOS technology, which was used in numerous government projects.  In 1986, she founded and managed Hamilton Technologies, which developed a new programming language: the Universal Systems Language (USL) and its associated automatic environment, the "001 Tool Suite".  


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