Author: Claire L. Evans
Summary: This included many fantastic women I’d not heard of, but also played to stereotypes of women as good at the people stuff in some annoying and boring ways.
This is the story of the women who made technological advances that gave us the internet and computers as we know them today. I love stories about women in tech history, so I knew I had to pick it up. The author won me over immediately with her enthusiasm for her own first computer. Then she lost me as she started talking about how the women she interviewed were all people especially good at making computers accessible, although they didn’t create them. Even with her caveats disavowing gender essentialism, this reductionist view of the women in her book was an unfortunate and inaccurate capitulation to sexist stereotypes. Granted, the women she discussed (mostly) didn’t come up with new computer architecture, but some of the software they created was just as fundamental to the technology we have today. For instance, I wouldn’t describe contributions to the development of the internet as simply ‘making computers accessible’, even though that was one result of the technology.
The rest of this book was almost exclusively awesome, despite the somewhat bad beginning. I learned about an amazing array of women without whom our world would look very different. Here are a few new-to-me favorites:
- the Bettys – Betty Snyder and Betty Jean Jennings, who worked on the Enivac and helped create the Univac (including the hardware!)
- Jake Feinler – came up with the domain system for URLs (.com, .org, etc) and the WHOIS look up of domain owners
- Radia Perlmen – the ‘mother of the internet’, devised the spanning tree algorithm for directing Ethernet packets (gets data where it needs to go)
She also covered women I knew more about – Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace – and made the material feel fresh. I really loved learning about the technical advancements these women made. The author’s focus on women as good at the people side of technology did pop up a few other places. In particular, chapters on an adventure game, a women’s website, and a social services directory felt dry to me and didn’t include any technical developments that interested me. Overall, I definitely think this is worth a read. I’d just take the author’s categorization of these women with a grain of salt, because I found their technical accomplishments spectacular completely independent of their impact on accessibility.