Today in History – February 14, 1946 – ENIAC, the world’s first digital electronic computer, is unveiled. ENIAC – Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer – the world’s first operational, general purpose, electronic digital computer, developed at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering, University of Pennsylvania. The ENIAC and the invention of the computer is considered one of the most influential and pervasive developments coming out of World War II.
The history of computing owes much to contributions of talented women. Ada Byron Lovelace is credited first envisioning programming with her statement: “The analytical engine weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves”. Six of the ENIAC programmers were women at the University of Pennsylvania during World War II who had been calculating ballistics trajectories by hand. Admiral Grace Hopper, inventor of the first computer compiler, coined the term “computer bug” and is the namesake for the Grace Hopper Conference – Celebration of Women in Computing.
Alas women now only represent a small fraction of computer science graduates and are not fully representd in the world of information technology and computing. This is one reason I enthusiastically agreed to co-found and serve as founding CEO of the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) with the overarching goal to achieve parity in the professional information technology (IT) workforce and to educate, disseminate, and advocate a national, multi-year implementation plan that generates tangible progress within 20 years.
Why is this issue important? Innovation thrives with a diversity of ideas and input. As IT becomes pervasive in our lives, we need women’s full participation in the the creation of the technology upon which our society increasingly depends. Further, U.S. Department of Labor projections forecast that our economy will add 1 million professional IT jobs by 2014. In the aftermath of the dot-com bust, however, the perception of a job shortage has caused a sharp decline in enrollment at 4 year computer science programs. Women’s lack of participation results in ideas not realized, products not implemented and jobs going unfilled.
NCWIT is a coalition of over 100 universities, corporations and non-profits who all feel we can and must do a better job of attracting women to computing. We are working on interventions across the entire educational and career pipeline, including new ideas in curriculum, outreach, recruiting and retention. We are also studying women’s participation in key innovation metrics such as IT patenting, open source and entrepreneurship.
See the Engineering Pathway’s educational resources on the ENIAC, history of computing, Ada Lovelace and women in information technology. For curricular resources, visit the Computer Science Education, Information Science Education, Information Technology Education, Computer Engineering Education of Software Engineering Education community sites.