What Tech Used to Look Like?

In the early days of computing, coding was women’s work. The word ‘computer’ used to refer to people (mostly women) whose job was to compute. Early computers calculated with slide rules and later with mechanical calculators. Then during World War II, women with Math degrees were recruited to program the first digital computers. With the end of the war, many stepped back, giving up their jobs to returning veterans, and by the 1960s, software development became a male-dominated field.

Admiral Grace Hopper was a rare talent – one of women who stayed in the field until retirement. She developed many early techniques that influenced how software development evolved. I also haven’t heard of any other Admirals who also wrote code!

In December, I helped investigate the identities of 4 people who represent a much more diverse tech scene that we see in the media these days. Grace Hopper was identified in the photo, but the three men with her were not…

4 people around a UNIVAC keyboard: one black man, one indian man, a white woman (Grace Hopper) and a white man c. 1960

SI Neg. 83-14878. Grace Murray Hopper at the UNIVAC keyboard, c. 1960. Grace Brewster Murray: American mathematician and rear admiral in the U.S. Navy who was a pioneer in developing computer technology, helping to devise UNIVAC I. the first commercial electronic computer, and naval applications for COBOL (common-business-oriented language). Credit: Smithsonian Institution

Through Twitter, I collaborated with colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution who reached out to other archivists and identified the other people in the photo as:

I’d love to know stories of the men in the photo – were they also programmers? was this a rare gathering or were teams more racially diverse in 1960s than we might think in reading modern histories? or perhaps this was an international gathering?

Arguably there are many more racially diverse teams today than one might imagine when we look at top news stories in the United States. Part of the Bridge Foundry mission is to not only support people who are just getting into tech, but also highlight the many technologists with diverse backgrounds who are already here. Due to historical bias, there are many people who are not as visible as they should be given their contributions to the field. If you are, or know of, these stories that should be told or amplified, please let us know.