Women in tech in the early days of tech

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.

My mom studied computer programming during the 1970s and her professor was female. And women getting advanced degree in computer science peaked in the USA in the late 1980s. So I’m under the impression that the industry was more open to women in its early days than it is now, especially relative to other professions such as medicine (almost 50% of new doctors are female in the USA).


What was it like being on campus with so few other women around? What was it like socially?

Well, different people were different but, yes, there was a lot of working together and studying with the other women. There were certainly women who have stayed friend forever since then, and I have some friends from that time.

I remember, though, feeling that it was hard to find appropriate study groups. Because if you didn’t find the right women doing the right courses in your dorm, finding a group of guys to work with was just, you know, for young women, laden with this is-this-dating-or-is-this-working-together kind of stuff. So it was hard.

I imagine it’s easier now that there’s a more even mix and you don’t have to be—or try to be—the one girl in a little study group doing whatever the subject is you happen to be studying.

So, yes, I think we got very close to each other in the dorm, but I think it really was limiting and an issue.

Did you feel like the male undergraduates and male faculty respected your intelligence in a way that was equal to how they respected your male peers?

It’s so hard to say. I mean, you know, we all had experiences of feeling like the professor kept looking directly at me to see if I nodded and got it. You did feel unusual and singled out in class.

I’ve certainly talked to people [women] in other fields who were told explicitly, you’re going to waste your degree, or you shouldn’t be doing this, or you should study X instead of Y. I never had that kind of experience at MIT.

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