Today, women hold only a quarter of computer science degrees and technical computing jobs, and the stereotype of the male computer geek seems to be everywhere in popular culture. Few people know that women were a significant presence in the early decades of computing in the United States and Britain—indeed, in the 1950s programming was often considered woman's work. In Recoding Gender, Janet Abbate explores the untold history of women in computer science and programming from the Second World War to the late twentieth century.
Abbate describes the experiences of women who worked with the earliest electronic digital computers: Colossus, the wartime codebreaking computer at Bletchley Park outside London, and the American ENIAC, developed to calculate ballistics. She examines postwar methods for recruiting programmers, and the 1960s redefinition of programming as the more masculine software engineering. She describes the social and business innovations of two early software entrepreneurs, Elsie Shutt and Stephanie Shirley; and she examines the career paths of women in academic computer science. Demonstrating how gender has shaped the culture of computing, she offers a valuable historical perspective on today's concerns over women's underrepresentation in the field.
Abbate's account of the bold and creative strategies of women who loved computing work, excelled at it, and forged successful careers will provide inspiration for those working to change gendered computing culture.
Abbate joined Virginia Tech in the National Capital Region in 2004 and was promoted to associate professor in 2011. She has been researching and writing on the history of the Internet since 1988. Her first book, Inventing the Internet, about the development of computer networks from 1960 to the early 1990s, was published by MIT Press in 1999.
Associate Professor Janet Abbate has joined Barbara Allen as co-director of the Science and Technology Studies graduate program in the National Capital Region.
The Visible Scholarship Initiative is a collaboration between the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and the University Libraries that seeks to make visible the stages of research and creative scholarship in the liberal arts and human sciences. Illustrating how faculty address key questions, employ varied methods, and produce significant results makes it possible to acknowledge and encourage research and creative activities that engage challenging questions and demonstrate sophisticated understanding.