Women account for only a small percentage of software engineers, as gender biases within education and employment continue to stand in the way of change. However, that’s not to say they aren’t making their mark on the industry. Far from it; not only have women shaped the industry throughout history, holding key roles in computer and software engineering development from the outset, they continue to make vital contributions. Today, women power some of the world’s top IT firms and most promising startups, accounting for top developers, tech executives and entrepreneurs.
While playing monumental roles in software engineering, some of the most famous coders have only recently received the recognition they deserve, sometimes only after Hollywood has deemed to make a movie of their achievements. It’s unacceptable for those making a difference today to have to wait to receive the recognition they deserve. To help shine a spotlight on success, we’ve picked out four female software engineers who are doing incredible things in the industry today. We hope that by championing some of the women who are stepping up and making a difference, we can play a part in encouraging others to follow in their footsteps and inspiring the next generation of software engineers. There is no doubt that many of their stories will go down in the history books, inspire movies and feature on the front of leading publications. Here’s to honouring the rapidly growing tribe of women that is driving the industry forward.
Elizabeth Churchill, Director of User Experience, Google
Elizabeth Churchill has no shortage of qualifications under her belt. She has a BSc in Research and Experimental Psychology, a Master of Science in Knowledge-Based Systems and a PhD in Cognitive Science. Her career has seen her work at some of the major tech giants, including Palo Alto, Yahoo, eBay and now Google.
Today, Churchill is the Senior Director of Google’s user experience team. In her role, she combines her extensive skill sets in computer science, psychology, design and analytics to improve user experience. Not only does Churchill have an impressive career history, she is the Vice President of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), the world’s premier professional society for computer science professionals. During her career, she has accumulated more than 50 granted or pending patents, published hundreds of articles covering psychology and computing and co-authored two books.
Tracy Chou, Founder and CEO, Block Party
Tracy Chou is another woman with an extremely impressive resume. She has a BSc in Electrical Engineering and an MSc in Computer Science and launched her career as a software engineer in Silicon Valley. Chou wrote code from the startup ground floor at Facebook, Pinterest and Quora and was on reserve as a technical consultant with the US Digital Service during the Obama administration.
As well as her coding achievements, Chou has focused a huge amount of energy on championing diversity. She spurred the wave of tech-company diversity data disclosures with a Github repository and published an article calling on Silicon Valley to open up about how few women are in tech. However, putting herself under the spotlight as a leading diversity advocate has led Chou to experience a significant amount of online harassment and abuse. Her response has come in the form of her latest project, Block Party. The company tackles the issue of online bullying by building tools that enable users to filter out or collect messages in order to report them. It’s no surprise that Chou has already appeared on the covers of leading publications, such as WIRED, as well as the Forbes Tech 30 Under 30 list.
Shafrira Goldwasser, Director of the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing, UC Berkeley
Goldwasser is an American-Israeli computer scientist with a BSc in Mathematics and Science and an MSc and PhD in Computer Science. She started her career at MIT and has since contributed to key research areas, including computational complexity theory, cryptography and computational number theory and co-invented zero-knowledge proofs. Her work in developing cryptosystems helped create today’s standard for security data encryptions. She became a professor of mathematical sciences at the Weizmann Institute of Science in 1993 and concurrently became the first holder of the RSA professorship at MIT.
Goldwasser has won the Godel Prize in theoretical computer science twice, as well as the ACM Grace Murray Hopper Award for outstanding young computer professional of the year and the RSA Award in Mathematics for exceptional mathematical contributions to cryptography. She has been elected to the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Science and the National Academy of Engineering. No shortage of awards under her belt, in 2012, she was the co-recipient of the prestigious 2012 Turing award for her work in the field of cryptography.
Ally Watson, Founder and CEO, Code Like a Girl
Ally Watson recognised the lack of diversity in the technology industry from the outset.
On taking her degree in Computing Science, she was quick to notice how few women were in the class. She struggled with imposter syndrome and preconceived perceptions about her capabilities. However, she soon learnt that her differences were her strengths. After graduating with a BSc in Computing Science, Ally Watson spent years working as the only female developer in the workplace. While she loved working as a backend developer in tech companies, she often experienced isolation and barriers in career progression and opportunities offered.
On moving from Scotland to Australia, Watson hosted an event specifically for women in tech to help her make strong connections and female friendships. Little did she know at the time that it was the beginning of something much bigger. In 2015, Watson founded Code Like a Girl, which focuses on making tech accessible, inclusive, open and fun. She believes that no one should miss out on education or opportunities, regardless of their socioeconomic background or, indeed, gender. Watson is recognised for her work promoting diversity and opportunities for women in tech and advocating coding and software development among women. Watson has been awarded an Order of Australia medal (OAM) in recognition of her efforts.
Giving More Power to Women in Tech
The four women we’ve showcased are an example of the incredible things that women can do in the technology industry. However, these women aren’t alone; there are many, many others who have and will achieve remarkable things. The problem, however, is that many won’t realise their potential due to the huge gender biases that continue to persist in the industry.
By showcasing these incredible female software engineers, we hope we can inspire others to follow in their footsteps. All of our workplaces are better places with a more diverse workforce. Women have an incredible amount to bring to the table and often, as we’ve just shown, an incredible amount of talent too. Female-led businesses are more likely to have a mature diversity and inclusion strategy and less likely to run into hurdles with senior leadership. Together we can create amazing things; it makes no sense to stand in the way of success.