IBM's superstar CEO Ginni Rometty's short history lesson on women in health IT
As she kicked off the Anita Borg Institute’s Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing on October 19 in Houston, IBM Chairwoman, President and CEO Ginni Rometty started with a short history lesson on women pioneers in technology.
The three-day event Rometty keynoted is billed as the largest gathering of women technologists in the world. It focuses on the various contributions women are making to the technology market.
The institute is named for Anita Borg, who was an American computer scientist. She founded the Institute for Women and Technology and the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.
Speaking to an audience of more than 15,000 at the Grace Hopper event, Rometty began with a couple of details about IBM.
IBM hired its first woman engineer in 1935, and it’s first woman executive in 1943.
“I am happy to tell you I was not even born either of those times,” she told the audience, and moved on frame the next segment as “women in technology, yesterday, today and tomorrow.”
How many of you have ever heard of Ada Lovelace, she asked the audience filled predominantly with women who work in technology.
“It was 1840, “ Rometty said. “She worked for Charles Babbage, who is often recognized as the man who built the first computer. But do you know what Ada did?”
Rometty points in the direction of a woman in the audience who offered the answer and nodded.
“She wrote the first algorithm.” Rometty repeated. “She was the first programmer,” “Now, he’s known as the father of computers. Should she not be the mother of software? Absolutely!”
Rometty then fast-forwarded to World War II, and put the spotlight on Grace Hopper, who had joined the U.S. Navy during World War II and was assigned to work on the Mark 1 computer.
“Grace Hopper was a Naval Officer,” Rometty said. “She programmed an IBM computer – a Mark 1. Her nickname was ‘Amazing Grace.” Really, she was the first compiler – the first compiler, the predecessor to make all this possible.”
Fast forward to the 1960s.
“Do you recognize those three names?” Rometty asked: Catherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson.
The women were mathematicians at NASA. They were the ones that calculated the trajectory for astronaut John Glenn’s trip to the moon.
“So, why would I start with this little history lesson?” she asked. “I want you to remember something: Past is prologue. And, it is a fact that women have helped drive every era of technology we have known to date.
“So, you think of the early tabulating machines – Ada. You thing of programs: You think of Grace.”
Then, Rometty turned to the present to introduce the era taking shape today: the cognitive era.
She described IBM’s work in the realm of cognitive computing, lauding for just a moment or two IBM Watson – the IBM supercomputer that has moved from playing games on the TV game show Jeopardy, to answering questions about cancer, working with many of the most prestigious cancer centers in the country.
Watch Rometty's keynote here.