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Tales of fascinating women in science and technology

Tales of fascinating women in science and technology

In software development, there is a set of five basic principles that we must follow and they are often referred to using the English mnemonic that combines the first letters of each. This is how the SOLID concept was born. Each represents good programming practice; For example, the letter S comes from “single responsibility” – individual responsibility for the interface; o O for Open/Closed – indicating that entities should be open for expansion, but closed for modification, and so on. I would now like to draw attention to the fact that three of these principles are attributed to Robert C. Martin and others to Bertrand Meyer. Interestingly, the only principle to which the author's name is attributed was coined by a woman: Barbara Liskov, the computer scientist who invented the Liskov substitution principle – the letter L, in our mnemonics.

On the occasion of Women's Day, I wanted to share some stories about amazing women in science and technology that most people have not heard of, despite the production of a Hollywood movie called “Hidden Figures” which, among other topics, touches on the fundamental role. Which women have played in NASA's success.

Once upon a time – sometime before 1880 – there was a girl named Annie Cannon who loved astronomy. Instead of being told to follow the herd and “be a good wife and mother,” her mother encouraged her to study science. In 1884, she graduated in physics from Wellesley College, in Massachusetts, and was appointed to work as assistant director of the Harvard College Observatory. She became the first member of the Harvard Computer College, an all-female team that analyzed data obtained by (male) astronomers using telescopes. His work on the study and identification of patterns in stellar spectra was published in 1901 in the form of a star catalogue. Twenty years later, the International Astronomical Union formalized the ANI system as the stellar classification to be used in star classification. Despite this greater recognition for their work, Annie and the other women had to endure opinions such as “You're out of your place” and “Your job should be to be a housewife,” as well as being paid less than their male counterparts. peers.

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The Harvard Computer Team is not the only team of women brought together to do “boring jobs” in scientific contexts. In 1950, computers began to be used at NASA, but male engineers and scientists did not trust machines and preferred to have humans do the calculations. In this sense, women were appointed to the tasks at hand, the first being Barbara Canwright in 1939. But there is a limit to what one person can count, and as such, more women were appointed to help. One of them had the idea of ​​hiring recent female graduates from nearby universities, which turned out to be the opportunity some women needed to pursue their scientific careers.

One such woman whose story deserves to be highlighted is Barbara Paulson. It was she who made the calculations that allowed the United States to launch its first satellite in the Space Race against the Soviet Union. Then she became pregnant with her first child. In the 1960s, there was a rule at NASA that forced women to resign if they became pregnant. Fortunately, Barbara's supervisor, Helen Ling, had a policy of reinstating her postpartum colleagues whenever they were ready to return to work. Thanks to this maternity leave agreement, Barbara was able to return to NASA and calculate the trajectories of the Mariner probes sent to Venus and Mars.

When computers were considered reliable, these women (and those who followed them) continued to make significant contributions to the aviation industry. Helen Ling continued programming, and her future program will undertake tasks such as mapping the Earth's surface, studying Mars from its orbit, and analyzing the entire night sky at infrared wavelengths. Barbara Paulson continued to work on the Viking program, determining how to reach the surface of Mars. He also performed calculations for two Voyager spacecraft, one of which is now very, very far from home.

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There are so many women who have made amazing contributions in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and we can celebrate them every year on February 11 – the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, as well as Women's Day, in which we celebrate in all professions, all paths in society that… Must be remembered.

Like other international days, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science is promoted by the United Nations to educate the public about topics of interest. On this date, the goal is to promote full and equal access and participation for women and girls in science. Statistics compiled by the United Nations show that pay inequality is still evident in 2024: “Women typically receive smaller scientific research grants than their male colleagues, and although they represent 33.3% of all researchers, only 12% of members of female academia The national scientific staff are women.”

But what should really catch the community's attention is this: “Despite skills shortages in most technology fields driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution, women still represent only 28% of engineering graduates and 40% of computer science and IT graduates,” “In cutting-edge fields such as artificial intelligence, only one in five professionals (22%) is a woman.” (Source: Over 70 Women in Technology Statistics (2024)).

How can we get more girls interested in science? How can we help them become women in technology? What can we – as individuals, as families – do? We can tell the stories of women in science, who played important roles in promoting it, and we can participate with our children in fun activities that promote scientific knowledge, such as taking them to planetariums, museums, science fairs, and promoting extracurricular programs that spark their curiosity.

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What can we – as companies – do? We can train and employ women who have recently graduated in technology fields and we can lead by example. At the end of January 2024, the company I work for – Volkswagen Digital Solutions – had 26% women working in product teams, in fact, 28% if we add the central teams and management. In the geometric direction, 57%. What can we all do? Promoting and celebrating our fellow women in the technology sector. Celebrate each person's accomplishments, no matter if it's a Nobel Prize, an article published in a peer-reviewed journal, or being a keynote speaker at a conference.

And in this article, in particular, I want to celebrate my fellow travelers in the world of science and technology. Let us remember their names and stories, and let them serve as an inspiration to today's society! Happy International Women's Day.

As Barbara Leskov once said: “Let us do what we love and love what we do.”

The texts in this section reflect the personal opinion of the authors. It does not represent the vision and does not reflect its editorial position.