Meet the Coder Who Put Humans on the Moon; Spoiler: It’s a Woman

Genevieve Fish

We often refer to tech, specifically coding, as a man’s universe, with few outliers like Kimberly Bryant (founder of Black Girls Code), Tracy Chou (head software engineer at Pinterest), and even Karlie Kloss (#KodeWithKarlie). And yes, in today’s world, there are far fewer women in back-end development than men. A recent study shows that 92.1% of self-identified developers are male. As Wired puts it, “It might surprise today’s software makers that one of the founding fathers of their boys’ club was, in fact, a mother.” That mother is Margaret Hamilton—a woman who helped program the Apollo 11 spacecraft and hatch what would later become a $400 billion industry.

“As a working mother in the 1960s, Hamilton was unusual, but as a spaceship programmer, Hamilton was positively radical,” writes Wired journalist Robert McMillan. She would bring her young daughter to her computer lab at MIT in the evenings and weekends, and work on creating routines that would end up on the Apollo’s command module computer. “People used to say to me, ‘How can you leave your daughter? How can you do this?'” Hamilton tells Wired. But Hamilton loved working at the lab. Outside of the lab, no one knew what she was creating. This was a decade before Microsoft. “When I first got into it, nobody knew what it was that we were doing. It was like the Wild West. There was no course in it. They didn’t teach it,” Hamilton says. Hamilton loved the camaraderie of her team—the after-work drinks at MIT's faculty club and the geek jokes. “At the lab,” she says, “I was one of the guys.”

What can we learn from Hamilton? Besides stretching the bounds of what humanity can do, Hamilton redefined the role of women in the workplace. Hamilton didn’t think about the fact that she was the only woman doing this kind of work. She did what she loved—software engineering. In doing so, Hamilton defied conformity and, most of all, her critics. As a result, she led the code revolution and served as a phenomenal role model for her daughter.

To read more about Hamilton, visit Wired.

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Why do you think coding has evolved as a man’s world if it was founded, in part, by a woman? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

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