GUEST BLOG: Five inspirational women in tech (and what we can learn from them)

In this contributed blog post Ellie Martin, co-founder of the Startup Change Group, highlights five women who act as an inspiration to others in the technology industry, and how we can all learn from their achievements.

The first computer programmer was a woman. The ENIAC programmers, the first computer scientists to work in the nation’s service, were all women. And the creator of the spanning-tree protocol, Radia Perlman, is heralded as the “mother of the internet.” And yet, tech today is overwhelmingly considered a man’s domain.

Pop culture tells us that girls don’t do maths and your typical engineer is a tee-shirt clad guy. The numbers back this stereotype up– the vast majority of developer jobs are held by men. However, some of the greatest pioneers in the industry have been– and continue to be–  women. Here are the stories of five of the most inspiring women in tech today

1. Caterina Fake

Caterina Fake is an American entrepreneur, designer, and businesswoman. A starving artist with an early interest in the web, Fake claims her path to becoming a business pioneer in tech was an accidental one. In college, she studied art and English and thought she might go to graduate school for Renaissance Literature. Instead, upon graduating, she moved to San Francisco where she combined her artistic training with her interest in computers, becoming a pioneer of graphic design and blogging in the late 1990s. She taught herself HTML, published a blog, and eventually built her own website.

She then went on to create a host of companies that provide services online, including the photo-sharing company Flickr, the decision-making website Hunch, and Findery, a new app for discovering what’s unexpected around you. She also served as chairwoman of the Etsy board and supported some of the most innovative ventures in tech at their earliest stages, including Buzzfeed and Uber.

For aspiring entrepreneurs, Fake says, “Really understand people, their needs and how society works. Start building something immediately.” Her career demonstrates how it’s possible to integrate your passion (in her case, art and community) into tech, so long as you’re willing to try, fail, and make mistakes along the way.

2. Mary Lou Jepsen

Dr. Mary Lou Jepsen is a pioneer of digital display technology. She was the co-creator of the world’s first holographic video system in 1989. She served as a NASA Fellow from 1992-1994, during which she designed a new anti-glare illumination system for space shuttles, and she became the chief technology officer of Intel’s display division in the early 2000s.

She is the founder and former CEO of Pixel Qi, the co-founder of OLPC (One Laptop Per Child), the former head of the display division at Google X, and for the last year, she has served as executive director of engineering and head of display technologies at Facebook Oculus VR.

On May 5, at the Anita Borg Institute’s Women of Vision awards banquet, Dr. Jepsen announced that she will leave Oculus to focus on curing diseases with new display technology. Her goal is to bring modern MRI machines to every doctor’s office in the form of a consumer wearable. “”I’m setting off in a new direction,” she told the attendees. “I never stopped dreaming of how to create a wearable to communicate with our thoughts, how to do this at consumer electronics pricing. I want to get this to every doctor in the world.” She teaches us to dream big and let your ultimate goal help steer every stage of your career.

3. Virginia “Ginni” Rometty

Ginni Rometty has been named on Fortune Magazine’s list of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Business” for ten consecutive years and held the #1 rank in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Rometty started her career as a sales engineer at IBM over thirty years ago at the age of 24. She rose in the company through a variety of leadership positions, and in 2012, she was named the company’s first female CEO. Today, she is the acting CEO, president, and chairwoman of the tech giant. Though the company has had a rocky couple of years, she still closed 2015 with a performance bonus of $4.5 million.

She told Fortune magazine that her biggest lesson over the course of the last year was to focus on the “importance of moving to the future, making decisions for the long term, and betting big.”

4. Esther Dyson

Esther Dyson started her career as a magazine fact-checker. She studied economics at Harvard and wanted to be an entertainment writer, but quickly found herself fascinated by the business section when working for Forbes. In 1980, Dyson founded EDventure Holdings, an information tech and new media company. Through her own company, as a web blogger, investor, and as a New York Times columnist, Dyson made a name for herself as one of the most innovative minds in tech by the early 2000s.

Dyson is an active investor in Eastern European technology ventures and a tech policy maker and advocate in Washington. Her book, Release 2.0, discusses the challenges and controversies surrounding the future of the internet. Dyson’s career shows that you don’t have to be an engineer to be a leading innovator in tech. Sometimes, other backgrounds allow you to see the clearest.

5. Shafi Goldwasser

Shafi Goldwasser is an American-Israeli computer scientist. She has made enormous contributions to the fields of cryptography, computational number theory, computational complexity, and probabilistic algorithms. In 2012, Goldwasser won the Turing Award, considered the “Nobel Prize in computing,” with co-recipient, Silvio Micali, for laying the theoretic foundations for the science of cryptography and pioneering new methods for the efficient verification of mathematical proofs in complexity theory.

Today, she splits time between MIT, where she remains a professor of computer science and electrical engineering, and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, where she is a professor of computer science and applied mathematics. Having set many of the foundational pillars of modern cryptography with her own academic papers, Goldwasser encourages aspiring computer scientists to “not allow yourself to be restricted by the current rules of science or by the current dogma of which problems to work on and how to solve them is the right way to go.”

Without these five women, the tech industry simply would not be where it is today. They teach us to be relentless in seeing our dreams to fruition and to find innovative ways to use tech to make our ideas for a better world a reality.