“Amazing Grace” and the progress of women in technology

When I was asked to write this article about how technology has changed for women over the past 30 years, I had this overwhelming urge to interview Grace Hopper. Grace worked on the first commercial computer, coined the term “bug” and helped spark the development of the first programming language called COBOL. I had one little problem though. Grace was born in 1906 and would be 111 years old if she was still alive today, so unfortunately, interviewing her was not an option.GHooper

Many of you may even be wondering why I would care to interview a woman who made discoveries back in the 1960s. It’s because stories of the past pave the way for journeys of the future. Grace, better known as “Amazing Grace,” broke the gender gap and shattered the glass ceiling at a time when it wasn’t considered proper for a woman to engage in anything beyond rearing children and tending to a family.

Inspiration, aspiration and admiration

Moving forward into the 21st century, opportunities for women in technology have steadily increased. Thirty years ago, it was rare for a woman to be invited into the conversation, today women have a seat at the table. And those who are forging the way for all women include Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook; Marissa Mayer, President & CEO of Yahoo!; Ginni Rometty, President, Chairman & CEO of IBM and our own champion, Sabine Hansen Peck, SVP, Human Resources, Communication & Branding. Sabine is a member of the Amadeus Executive Committee and plays a key role in Amadeus’ job creation efforts, helping Amadeus earn this year’s KPMG-El Confidencial’s Best Business Practices Award. Sabine commented “…this award is a further recognition of Amadeus’ efforts to recruit the best talent.”

Technology advancements for women within the last three decades don’t stop short at the executive level, there are tremendous opportunities for women in all sectors: software, biomedical engineering, astrophysics, neuroscience, and more. And they are sought after by companies like Facebook, Google, IBM, Microsoft and Apple. When I consider the top women in technology who are changing the world, five in particular come to mind.  Whether they serve as inspiration or aspiration, they all deserve our admiration, and clearly demonstrate how far we’ve come since the days of “Amazing Grace.”

CJfcc1GWcAEo_7oCori Bargmann is an internationally renowned neuroscientist, geneticist, and President of the $3 billion Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (Facebook), leading the Initiative’s science strategy and working towards curing, preventing and managing all diseases by the end of this century.

Nina Tandon is a biomedical engineer, and co-founder and CEO of EpiBone, the world’s first company growing living human bones for skeletal reconstruction. She is using pluripotent stem cells to create models of an individual’s organs to test new drugs and treatments. She can make a model of your heart, your brain, on a chip and analyze it to cure your disease.

Cynthia Kenyon is an expert in biochemistry and biophysics. As Vice President of Aging at Google’s biotech company, Calico, she’s leading a team of scientists who are working to develop ways to slow the aging process and guard against age-related diseases.

Jennifer Doudna is a geneticist who, along with her colleague Emmanuelle Charpentier, invented the technology CRISPR that is enabling scientists to treat for genetic diseases through genome editing. CRISPR could possibly create “designer babies,” and Doudna has asked the global scientific community to methodically discuss the ethics surrounding this potential.

Sara Seager is a planetary scientist and astrophysicist at MIT who is known in the science community as the “astronomical Indiana Jones.” She asks the question “why are we here?” And she’s already discovered 700 new planets in her search to find the next planet Earth.

Dare to dreamSara Seager

Are you inspired yet? In my mind, this is the most exciting time for a career in technology, especially for women, because we are now in an era of gender neutrality. It’s no longer about being a woman in technology, rather it’s all about the quality of your work, your passion, motivation, the relationships you make along the way, and how you navigate the ever complex landscape for visibility.

The opportunities and possibilities for great discoveries are endless, and whether you want to create the next evolution of the GDS or aspire to become an executive, you are only limited by your imagination. Apply a technological principle to your life by thinking “agile,” and move forward through small iterative accomplishments. Don’t ever let fear steal your dream. I pose a challenge: promise yourself that within the next year you will take one small step toward achieving your dream. Do it for yourself and for the generations of women to follow. Amazing Grace would be proud.

9 comments

  1. I find it exhilarating to celebrate woman past and present who no matter what odds find a means to contribute in profound ways. Thank you everyone for taking the time to read the article, share and comment.

  2. Great post; thanks for shaing. If you have not watched the movie “Hidden figures” – the story of a team of female African-American mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program – please do to see how perseverance has been a key trait for women to get into technology. Really inspiring!

    1. Hidden Figures is such a perfect name for that movie! Truly a must see! Thanks Malek!

  3. Nice article Alexandra. You should write one which is about top 5 or 10 women who influenced Amadeus. But please, not just upper management.

  4. So absolutely true and inspirational. Being a women is no longer an excuse for defeat or failure. On the contrary, it is a reason to succeed and continue paving the path forward.

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