Women Veterans Have a Remarkable History in Technology

By Lee Rennick

Nashville has a growing female technology community, which i with a long and distinguished history that began with the daughter of an infamous 19th century poet, Lord Byron. But it was a female admiral who brought women out of the background, where they had contributed to computer technology quietly for many years. Today, a number of female veterans are taking what they learned in the military and turning it into new careers in a growing industry.

History accepts Charles Babbage’s “Analytical Engine” as the first machine to do mathematical calculations. Yet, after spending vast sums of government and personal capital to perfect his idea, it was rejected by the British government as being of little use. Only 27-year-old Lady Ada Lovelace saw possibility in the invention in 1842. She corrected the errors in his work and has since been credited as being the first programmer, designing code to run Babbage’s invention.

Ada Lovelace (Photo via Wikimedia)

Ada Lovelace (Photo via Wikimedia)

Even though the United States Review predicted in 1853 that machines would take over the majority of the work within 50 years, real movement forward in computer technology didn’t take place until the 1930s. It was in the 1930s that the now-iconic Grace Hopper took an interest in the fledgling field. During World War II she tried to enlist in the Navy, but she was rejected because of her age. She instead joined the Navy Reserve where she worked with some of the first mainframe computers.

Women in technology came into the forefront thanks to Hopper’s work, and she became a Navy Rear Admiral. Hopper was the first to create a machine-independent coding language. She was a pioneer in the industry, producing the COBOL language that is still used in business today. It was the first language not written in binary code, but rather it directs the computer to translate from machine language into English.

Although not officially military officers, many women were used for various military projects beginning during World War II. They did the high level mathematical calculations needed to get the war engine moving forward. During the war, Gertrude Blanch ran the Mathematical Tables Project for the Office of Scientific Research and Development, which did all of the mathematical calculation for the Army and Navy.

Another group of women who worked with the military are those finally recognized in the movie Hidden Figures. The movie tells the story of a group of African-American women who calculated flight trajectories for NASA’s Project Mercury. Katherine Johnson, a member of this group, was instrumental in introducing the use of early digital computational devices to NASA.

It was not until the 1980s, when tech development really took off, that women had more opportunity to step into the arena. While there were a lot of women who pursued technology careers in the 1980s, the number in recent years has not kept up with the explosion of tech-related jobs.

Today, major national employers like Comcast actively pursue women and women veterans who are interested in pursuing careers in technology and innovation.

“With the number of women actively serving in the military continuing to grow year over year, this next generation of veterans has a unique opportunity to build nationwide awareness of their burgeoning community and its value to America’s workforce,” says Carol Eggert, Senior Vice President, Military and Veteran Affairs at Comcast.

“Military community employees—veterans, those still serving in the National Guard and Reserve, and military spouses—bring attributes to the table like discipline, commitment to excellence, and experience, that any employer wants in a hire,” Eggert continues. “Especially in the media and technology business, where competition is strong and accuracy is paramount, having those skills make great business sense for any company looking for new talent.”

For many other female veterans, working at a company isn’t the ultimate goal—building their own company sounds better.

“There are nearly 400,000 veteran women-owned businesses in the U.S., a number that has risen exponentially in the post-9/11 veteran era,” Eggert adds. “This is a population with traits that drive success in business—they are dependable, they can make tough decisions, and they can take initiative and adapt to challenging circumstances.”

For local female veterans interested in technology and entrepreneurship, there are a number of resources in the Nashville area.

Under the state Drive to 55 initiative, there is a VETS program that helps veterans with transition into civilian life, including skills development and education. Also, Nashville Helping Veterans maintains a list of schools and scholarships with programs just for veterans.

More technology-specific resources can be found at the Nashville Technology Council and Bunker Labs, which is a veteran-run startup accelerator dedicated to helping other veterans start their own businesses.

Comcast is a large supporter of Bunker Labs programming, especially in Nashville. “Supporting Bunker Labs allows companies like Comcast NBCUniversal to do more than just talk about the valuable and rare talents of military community members in the workforce—it allows us to show how they positively impact the American economy and, in turn, create more opportunities for present and future veterans,” says Eggert.

While women have been involved in the world of technology from the very beginning, never have the opportunities to succeed in the field been more possible.

Lead image via Wikimedia Commons

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