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Satoshi Nakamoto - Anon es a menudo una mujer

24.12.2018
Elizabeth Holberton, nos dio esta increible cita sobre lo que significa para una mujer trabajar dia a dia en un campo dominado por hombres: "pase la mitad del tiempo tratando de averiguar que necesitaban las personas de las computadoras, y la otra mitad convenciendo a un ingeniero de que era su idea, para que se haga el trabajo"

You might wonder why we end our calendar with Satoshi Nakamoto, an unexpected choice for a calendar about women pioneers in tech. Since the start, this project has been an art project. As such it seeks to question our assumptions and to provoke an intervention in our minds. Why do we tend to assume that Satoshi Nakamoto is a man?

Yes, an expert in anonymity and disguise published on a website that theirbirth date was on the 5th of April of 1975, and their name was Satoshi Nakamoto. It won’t be the first time someone misgenders themselves to break publication barriers. George Eliot, Isak Dinesen or Pablo del Cerro were but pen names for Mary Anne EvansKaren Blixen and Paula Nenette Pepin. In mathematics, Sophie Germain used to correspond with Gauss under the pseudonym M. LeBlanc. Gauss was astonished when he found out that LeBlanc was a woman.

I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without singing them, was often a woman. — Virginia Woolf — A Room of One’s Own.

So if we aren’t to assume Nakamoto’s gender—it might even be a collective of people—could we at least entertain the idea that he might not be a man?

Visibilizing Women’s Work

Conjecture aside, the aim of our advent calendar has been to visibilize those women that have been forgotten from the history of tech.

Think of Claude Shannon, the creator of Information Theory. He worked side by side with his wife Betty Moore Shannon. She was a mathematician that helped him with his papers. Not only that, she was the one that wired the famous Theseus mouse. How many of us knew that Claude Shannon most important intellectual collaborator was his wife Betty?

 
Betty and Claude Shannon from the Computer History Museum.
They would work side by side. Betty looked up references, took down Claude’s thoughts and, importantly, edited his written work. She offered her improvements and added historical references. As Betty put it, “Some of his early papers and even later papers are in my handwriting…and not in his, which confused people at first.” — Betty Shannon, Unsung Mathematical Genius by Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman.

How many Betty Moore’s are out there that we don’t know about?

But women not only have been working side by side with men. When they are at the front producing significant research, our society tends to misgender them as men, even if they use their true names.

From our calendar, many people learnt that Barbara Liskov—from the Liskov substitution principle—is a woman. Thanks to our calendar, it was brought to our attention that the Corasick from the famous Aho-Corasick algorithm is a woman as well: Margaret J. Corasick.

Another problem we found while we were working on the profiles, was that in at least two situations some of our pioneers were portrayed with a picture of an entirely different woman. Dorothy Vaughan sometimes appears in a picture where the person in the photo is Melba Roy, a NASA mathematician. Another one was Jean E. Sammet, one of the designers of COBOL. In this case it was the Data Modeling pioneer Diane C. Pirog Smith.

 
 
Left: Melba Roy – Right: Diane C. Pirog Smith

Fundamental Discoveries

One reason why we started the calendar was to show that there were many more women pioneers in computing than the holy trinity of Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper and Margaret Hamilton—even if that’s not obvious already. We knew that there were more women out there, which had made fundamental contributions to the world of computers.

As we started building the list we found that a woman named Kathleen Boothhad created the first assembly language, wrote one of the first computer programming books, and was a pioneer in machine learning and artificial intelligence, all back in the late 40’s and early ’50s. I was flabbergasted.

Then as we asked for help on finding women from the old USSR, a friend suggested Kateryna L. Yushchenko from Ukraine, who created a programming language with pointers many years before PL/1 saw the light of day.

In our own Latin America we found Veronica Dahl, one of the founders of the Logic Programming field. Her book Logic Grammars has been cited as a main resource that helped with deciphering the human genome!

Women were also pioneers in computer art, as Carolyn L. Kane shows us in her book Chromatic Algorithms. One of them is Laurie Spiegel, who created a system called VAMPIRE in which she could draw real time graphics back in the ‘70s! Also in art we the iconic Wendy Carlos. She wrote the music for hacker’s cult film Tron.

In the field of programming there was Barbara Liskov and her invention of Abstract Data Types back in 1974. A development that changed the field of programming for ever. Her influence is still seen in modern Object Oriented Languages.

In the CPU world, we had Sophie Wilson, designer of the ARM processor that is present in most modern CPUs. If you are using a cellphone, then most probably your phone is running one of Sophie Wilson’s designs.

The list featured 23 pioneers, and many more that we couldn’t include because we were limited to 24 articles. Jeanette Wing, co-creator of the Liskov Substitution Principle, Joan C. Miller, computer graphics pioneer, Annie Easley, NASA Computer Scientist, or Lynn Conway inventor of techniques that make modern CPUs possible, are among the names that we had to leave out due to the limits of our list.

Sisterhood and Persistence

Finally, something that really touched me as we were researching and producing each profile, was the incredible stories of sisterhood and persistence that these women share.

For example Dorothy Vaughan and her story of not only learning FORTRAN on her own, but uplifting her computer colleagues so they could learn programming as well, and be able to keep their jobs at NASA.

We have Verónica Dahl, protesting against the Natural Sciences and Research Council of Canada. Thanks to her struggle women and men both can expense childcare when attending conferences while nursing.

Also these women weren’t shy to do what was needed to get a shot at an opportunity in tech. Evelyn Berezin lied about her age so she could get a job at a tech company in New York when WWII started. She was 16, but the earliest age one could work in New York City was 18. She went on to design the first computerized airline ticket reservation systems in the world.

Promotion in a world of men was also difficult. Judy Wajcman wrote in her 2004 book TechnoFeminism:

A successful career in IT requires navigation of multiple male cultures associated not only with technological work but also with managerial positions, as I have discussed in Managing Like a Man. — Judy Wajcman

This phenomenon was no strange to one of our pioneers. After many years in tech, Berezin noted that she never got a promotion. Her solution? Found her own company and name herself CEO. In that company she created the first true word-processing computer.

Access to education also wasn’t easy for these women. Barbara Liskov was rejected from Princeton for being a woman. Kateryna L. Yushchenko had to travel far away to Samarkand in Uzbekistan to be able to attend university, since her family had political problems in the USSR.

Uplifting Others with Education

Finally since we are talking about education, we’ve seen that many of them wrote some of the most influential books in their fields. Kathleen Booth wrote on of the first computer programming books as we mentioned above. Kateryna L. Yushchenko did so in Russian for the Kyiv University.

Nancy Lynch wrote one of the core books in distributed systems, and Rina Dechter wrote a seminal book about Constraint Processing. But perhaps the one that has had a wider impact in newer generations of programmers is Kathy Sierra with her Head First book series.

A Final Reflection

When reading about Elizabeth Holberton, we found this amazing quote about what it means for a woman to work day to day in a male dominated field:

Betty said she spent half her time trying to figure out what people needed in computers, and the other half convincing an engineer it was his idea, so the work would be done.

In 2018 one would think that this doesn’t happen anymore. That we are past that. Sadly as books like Reset by Ellen Pao show, there’s still a long way to go.

Let us quote Judy Wajcman again:

For many women the price is too high. No equivalent sacrifice has been expected of men. Their identification with technology has been taken for granted, women’s absence cast as women’s problem. But women’s problem is men, even though not al men are directly implicated. — Judy Wajcman

This is something that has to change. Something that we can help change by building spaces that are safe for women and other minorities in tech.

The challenge is for men who have premissed their masculinity on technical mastery to relinquish their hold on technology and give up the privileges and power that go with this construction of masculinity. — Judy Wajcman

We hope our advent calendar is a nudge in the right direction for showing that women not only have been fundamental in the world of computing, but they are essential if there’s going to be a future—and a present—in the tech industry. An industry in which we hope tech industry means all of us.


Acknowledgments

This advent calendar was a great adventure that required a huge amount of work and dedication by the whole team. So why this is still not in book form, we think some acknowledgments are due.

Florencia Grattarola — @flograttarola

I’m hugely grateful to Álvaro and Seba for inviting me to be part of this fulfilling adventure. Oh girl it was! It all started with “wouldn’t it be incredible?” and the next thing you know we were splitting the names of pioneers to start the calendar. One by one they went, one by one they captivated us.

It was an intense month of much reading and research, of anguish and excitement, for so many hard and incredible stories. It has been such an inspiring exercise to apprise the lives of all these women that I hope it spreads and more leaders in technology keep being pondered.

We need more visible women in our history! To all of those that have shed light to the life of such amazing women, thank you for collectivizing their work and enabling us to broaden the cannon of computer science pioneers. I think that focusing on them, and diversifying and enriching at least a bit of the story being told, was worth every night.

Special thanks to Álvaro, for the trust, the guidance and the patience.

Sebastián Navas — @SebastianNavasF

I want to deeply thank Álvaro and Florencia for allowing me to be part of the team. They made me work outside of my element and usual themes, something that’s needed from time to time. The idea was captivating and challenging since the beginning, so for me it was a pleasure to be part of this project.

I hope this work is useful and meets its goal of giving a name and a place to at least a few of those many great women that have built the world of computing. I hope it’s an inspiration for all the women that fight day to day to achieve their goals, and also, I hope it upsets those that need upsetting so it generates consciousness about these issues in those who most need it.

Thank you very much, I leave you my work with the most utmost respect and admiration for all these great women.

Alvaro Videla — @old_sound

I’d like to thank my partners in crime Florencia and Sebastián for being part of this project. Writing and Illustrating twenty four articles is no easy task, and they have shown their dedication and commitment throughout the month, even if that meant working long hours into the night so every profile had the detail it deserved.

For me it has been an honor to be able to learn and write about the lives of these amazing women that shaped the computing industry since day one. The word humbling doesn’t honor the feelings I have when I read their stories, and see their accomplishments.

Finally I’d like to thank Joyce Park @troutgirl. Without your book about programming in PHP, I wouldn’t be here in the tech industry. Perhaps without realizing it, you opened a door for me, and I’m sure for so many others. Today I’m happy to be able to call you my friend.


Advent Calendar — Help us make it a book!

From December 1st until December 24th we plan to release one article each day, highlighting the life of one of the many women that have made today’s computing industry as amazing as it is: From early compilers to computer games, from chip design to distributed systems, we will revisit the lives of these pioneers.

Each article will come with an amazing illustration by @SebastianNavasF

If you want to see these series to become a book with expanded articles and even more illustrations by Sebastián, then subscribe to our newsletter below.

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