Three women in technology to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom


Among the 21 artists, writers, scientists, philanthropists and athletes poised to receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony on November 22 are three pioneering women in technology.

The medal is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

The three women in technology being honored are Melinda Gates, Margaret H. Hamilton and Grace Hopper, posthumously.

Melinda Gates, with her husband, Bill Gates, established the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000 to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. The foundation works in developing countries to improve healthcare and give people a hand up to help them lift themselves out of hunger and poverty. In the United States, the foundation works to provide all people, especially those with the fewest resource, access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and in life. The Gates Foundation has provided more than $36 billion in grants since its inception.

At the end of September this year, Melinda Gates, a computer science major when she was in college, launched a new initiative to bring more women around the world into technology careers.

 Melinda and Bill Gates will each receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

[See also: Melinda Gates launches push to bring more women into tech careers.]

Margaret H. Hamilton led the team that created the on-board flight software for NASA’s Apollo command modules and lunar modules. Hamilton. a mathematician and computer scientist, started her own software company. She contributed to concepts of asynchronous software, priority scheduling and priority displays and human-in-the-loop decision capability Her work helped build the foundation for modern, reliable software design and engineering.

Known as “Amazing Grace,” and “the first lady of software,” Rear Admiral Grace Hopper was on the vanguard of computer and programming development from the 1940s through the 1980s. Hopper, who died in 1992, will be honored with the medal posthumously.

Hopper’s work helped make coding languages more practical and accessible, and she created the first compiler, which translates source code from one language into another.  She taught mathematics as an associate professor at Vassar College before joining the United States Naval Reserve as a lieutenant (junior grade) during World War II, where she became one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer and began her lifelong leadership role in computer science.

[See also: IBM’s superstar CEO Ginni Rometty’s short history lesson on women in health IT.]

The ceremony is on November 22 at the White House. It will be streamed live at