Achievement Timeline


Ada Lovelace: Computing’s Visionary

In 1843, Ada Lovelace imagined a machine capable of extraordinary things, limited only by the creativity of its programmer, nearly a century before the first computers were built.

Ada was inspired by her colleague Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine. Her lengthy notes on it included the world’s first published algorithm. She foresaw a device that could accomplish far more than mathematics, writing about its potential to compose music - a vision for the machine’s potential far beyond what anyone else had considered.

Born in 1815, Ada was the child of “mad, bad and dangerous to know” poet Lord Byron and mathematician Anne Isabelle Milbanke. Nicknamed the 'Enchantress of Numbers', Ada died at the tragically young age of 36.


The Computing Wrens of Bletchley Park

Women made up the majority of Bletchley Park’s workforce, most enlisted in the Women’s Royal Naval Service, WRNS, nicknamed the Wrens.

The Wrens performed a vital role operating the computers used for code-breaking, including the Colossus and Bombe machines. Working around the clock in three 8 hour shifts, they were the beating heart of Bletchley Park.

Women were also involved in the construction of the machines, including doing the wiring and soldering to create each Colossus computer.


Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (EDSAC)

EDSAC was the first practical electronic stored program computer to provide computing services to scientists, engineers and mathematicians. It was designed and built by a team led by Prof. Sir Maurice Wilkes at the Mathematical Laboratory at Cambridge University.
Until then computers were mostly experimental machines for development and used largely by the engineers who designed them. With EDSAC users could for the first time write their own programs and this saw the start of a new profession – computer programmer.
Wilkes and his team pioneered many hardware and programming techniques that are an accepted part of practice today. EDSAC first ran in May 1949 and was switched off in July 1958.
At the time many EDSAC computer operators and users were women such as Joyce Wheeler and Margaret Marrs, a balance that today’s computing industry is striving to re-establish.
Click here to see former EDSAC operators returning to the National Museum of computing to be re-united with the machines they once operated.


Dina St Johnston: Founder of the UK’s First Software Company

In February 1959 Dina St Johnston founded Vaughan Programming Services, offering a bespoke solution for companies seeking to outsource their software development.This marked the beginning of the independent software industry in the UK.

Initially specialising in software for Elliott computers where Dina had learned to program, Vaughan evolved to focus onindustrial process control applications, including monitoring programs for nuclear plants and railway signalling systems for British Rail.

Dina’s skills were renowned - as a former colleague put it, “whereas the rest of us tested programs to find the faults, she tested them to demonstrate that they worked”. She continued to play a hands-on role leading all software development at the company right up to her retirement in1999.


Dame Stephanie Shirley: Entrepreneur and Champion for Women Programmers

Dame Stephanie Shirley began her career as a mathematician at the UK’s Post Office Research Station, working on projects including the ERNIE computer used to calculate winners of the premium bond lottery.
After a stint as a programmer at ICL, in 1962 she founded Freelance Programmers, one of the UK’s first software startups, dedicated to employing women software developers working part-time from home. Later renamed Xansa, in 2007 the company was acquired by Steria for several hundred million pounds.
Today Dame Stephanie ranks among the world's leading philanthropists, having given most of her wealth away in support of IT and autism (her late son's special educational need).


Karen Spärck Jones: Research Pioneer in Linguistics and Information Retrieval

Based in Cambridge, Karen Spärck Jones carried out pioneering research in the fields of computational linguistics and information retrieval. In 1972 she published her theory of “inverse document frequency”, a concept that underpins internet searching techniques.

Professor of Computers and Information at Cambridge University until 2002, Karen was awarded the ACL Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004, and the British Computer Society's Lovelace Medal in 2007. She actively sought to encourage women to enter the field, quipping “Computing is too important to be left to men”


Sophie Wilson: Laying the Foundation for Mobile Computing

Sophie Wilson was a pioneer in bringing personal computingto the UK. She designed the Acorn System 1 microcomputer, which went into production in 1979. She also co-designed the BBC Micro, specified its operating system and wrote the BBC BASIC programming language to run on it. Over a million BBC Micros were sold and it became the flagship computer used in thousands of UK schools during the 1980s to teach programming.
Starting in 1983, Sophie co-designed a new microprocessor which was much simpler and used far less power than previous designs. This became the first in a family of what are now called ARM processors, used today in almost every smartphone and tablet worldwide.
In 1999, Sophie led the design for another kind of microprocessor, called Firepath, which is now widely used in equipment which provides broadband services.