Women in Technology – where did it all begin?

Category: Blog

By Janice


Starting out

In the early 80s I started my career in IT as a trainee programmer working in a software bureau where the proportion of men and women were more or less equal. In fact, my second boss was female. In these early days we did everything. We wrote code, we managed what was then a complicated process of printing and distributing reports, and we could regenerate the whole computer from a cold start.

Technology doesn't need a degree in 'computing'

I guess a 'Software Bureau' was an early version of Software as a Service, in that we hosted applications such as Stock Control, Bed Booking for oil and gas operators. I can't quite remember how we did it. There was great excitement when we managed to get our two massive computers to talk to one another - the birth of our 'network'. I got involved in loads of things and one activity I am particularly proud of, is writing the code to make a Schlage lock system communicate with a computer application. This involved very low level coding; down to bits and bytes, and conversions from hexadecimal to octal. We also wrote some of the first badge reading software for offshore mustering in 1982 or 1983. Unfortunately the computing power just couldn't keep up with the badge reading and writing back to the computer.

How has progress affected the number of Women in Technology?

How times have changed. Our 1981 state of the art PDP 11/34 and PDP 11/70 each with 1 meg of memory needed a whole air conditioned room and the four disk drives were each the size of a washing machine. The disks were huge, and consisted of a number of platters. We even used mag tapes to back up code and data. (For anyone wondering what a mag tape is - here is a wiki link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetic_tape). We worked at a highly technical level and yet unlike today’s range of IT disciplines it was basically code, operate or fix! We also crawled about on the floor a lot trying to hook up multiplexors and other bits of wire and metal. Our code would probably be unreadable these days as we only had 16k of memory for our programme to function otherwise 'we burst core'

In the 1980s women in technology were common. Their qualifications were varied. Some had degrees in maths or science subjects, others came from a background of History, English or even Archaeology. The only things they had in common was .............. no degrees in computing!

These women have made great careers in IT particularly in the disciplines of integration, data, business analysis, change and project management. They have excelled in liaising and communicating between the business areas and the I.T. department - building bridges and understanding.

Are Technology courses appealing to women?

So what has happened? The actual numbers of women in technology may have increased but the percentage appears much lower than when I started out 40 years ago? There are now a wealth of courses and degrees in a range of IT disciplines offered by Colleges and Universities. However these just don’t seem to appeal to enough young women to have a decent gender balance in technology. There were two young women on my older sons University course of Electronic and Computer Engineering.  On my younger sons multi media college course only a handful of young women finished. Why are men dominating these courses and what can we do about it? Is it the same in other countries or just in the UK? Does it matter? What do you think?

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"Women in Technology"

First Published on Company Connecting Updated March 2023

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