Our list of influential women in computer science features those who have impacted artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, who have held executive roles in big tech companies, and who have affected positive change in their university departments. These women are helping to shape the future of technology and influencing others to follow in their footsteps.
Computer scientists helped to create the smartphones in our hands, the software programs we use to power our workplaces, the medical devices needed to perform surgery, and the games we play on our computers. Computer scientists work in a diverse range of fields including AI, robotics, automation, information technology, FinTech, and much more. Computer scientists find employment in healthcare, startups, think tanks, government, finances, and more. There is demand for qualified computer science professions in every sector of the economy. This is why the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a job growth rate of 22% between now and 2030, which far exceeds the average rate of job growth for all occupations.
Students who study computer science will gain foundational knowledge in algorithms, programming languages, and operating systems. They can take courses on subjects like cybersecurity, data mining, analytics, and website construction. Postgraduate degree programs offer specialized and advanced courses, providing in-depth knowledge of theory and design of computing systems, among other subjects. Though many graduates with a bachelor’s degree go on to find successful employment, many choose to continue their education, earning a master’s or doctorate.
While the American Association of University Women (AAUW) reports that women in computer science are paid higher salaries than women in many other fields, they still face representation and pay gaps relative to their male counterparts. In 2019, only 19% of the bachelor’s in computer science were awarded to women, and only 28% and 20%, respectively, of master’s and doctorates in the field went to women.
AAUW is among many organizations seeking to change that. The Association for Women in Computing, AnitaB.org, and Girls Who Code all encourage women to enter the technology field. AnitaB.org is named after Dr. Anita Borg, who in 1987, started a digital community for women in computing. Part of the organization’s mission is to
connect, inspire, and guide women in computing, and organizations that view technology innovation as a strategic imperative.
While there is a need for more female representation in computer science, our list of influential women in the field serves to inspire others to join their ranks. Our top influencer, Fei-Fei Li, is co-creator of ImageNet and the Sequoia Capital Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University. Barbara Liskov was one of the first women in the US to earn a PhD in computer science and is now a computer scientist at MIT. Timnit Gebru, an Ethiopian American computer scientist, works on algorithmic bias and data mining and is the co-founder of Black in AI. Carol E. Reiley is a pioneer in teleoperated and autonomous robot systems in surgery, space exploration, disaster rescue and self-driving cars.
Areas of Specialization: Machine Learning, Artifical Intelligence, Computational Biology
Koller is a professor of computer science at Stanford University. She received her bachelor's degree from Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1985, and her Ph.D. from Stanford in 1993. Her former students include notable computer scientists Ben Tasker, Suchi Saria, and Eran Segal.
Koller's work focuses on probabilistic reasoning, representation, and inference with graphical models like Bayes Nets. With Stanford colleague Andrew Ng, Koller launched the online learning platform Coursera in 2012, serving as co-CEO with Ng and later as the company's president. Koller has also been active in using modern data science and statistics to improve areas of concern for us like health care. For instance, she has made important contributions to the development of techniques and software that help predict whether premature babies will have health problems. She has directed her focus on computer vision as well as computational biology toward the development of applications and systems that can help in decision making and diagnosis in medical and other industries.
Areas of Specialization: Computational Complexity Theory, Cryptography, Number Theory
Shafrira "Shafi" Goldwasser is the RSA Professor of Computer Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as Professor of Mathematical Sciences at Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. She received a bachelor's degree in computer science and mathematics from Carnegie Mellon University, and a master's and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.
Goldwasser's impressive career spans many areas in computer science, including computational complexity theory, cryptography, and number theory. She has been in high demand during her impressive career in computer science, serving as chief scientist and co-founder of thr Israeli company Duality Technologies using cryptographic methods for data security, and has served as an advisor to a number of successful ventures, including companies focusing on blockchain technology, which has become hugely popular in recent years. Goldwasser is also a member of the Theory of Computation group at the world-renowned Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT. Her primary focus is on fundamental aspects of computer security, like cryptography, a topic that is of both theoretical interest in computer science and mathematics and has obvious practical applications to many industries like finance, banking, and data protection.
Liskov (née Barbara Huberman) is a computer scientist at MIT, where she is Ford Professor of Engineering in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Institute Professor in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), where she leads the Programming Methodology Group. One of the first women in the US to earn a PhD in computer science, Liskov was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, the eldest of four siblings. In 2008, she won the Turing Award for her invention of the Liskov substitution principle, one of only three women to win that award so far (the other two are Fran Allen and Shafi Goldwasser).
Huberman (as she was then known) earned her bachelor's degree in mathematics from UC-Berkeley in 1961. She wanted to do graduate work in mathematics at Princeton, but at the time the university did not accept women as graduate students. While she was accepted at Berkeley, Huberman decided to accept an offer from Mitre Corporation instead. Located in Bedford, Massachusetts, one of Boston's northern suburbs, Mitre is a not-for-profit organization that acts as a liaison between federal funding agencies and cutting-edge scientific research in the private sector.
Areas of Specialization: Distributed Algorithms, Formal Modeling
Nancy Lynch is the head of the Theory of Distributed Systems research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, a mathematician, theorist and NEC Professor of Software Science and Engineering. She attended Brooklyn College, where she studied mathematics. She went on to earn a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
She began her career teaching math and computer science at Tufts University, Florida International University, the Georgia Institute of Technology School of Computational Science & Engineering and the University of Southern California. She worked with colleagues to show that an asynchronous distributed system does not allow consensus if one processor crashes. Their research was awarded the PODC Influential-Paper Award for 2001, the first of two for Lynch, who was recognized again by the organization in 2007.
Areas of Specialization: Hypermedia, Web Science
Hall is Regius Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton in the UK. She received her bachelor's and Ph.D. in Mathematics at Southampton. She also has a master's degree in Computing at City University in London.
Hall has the distinction of developing a working hypertext system before the World Wide Web existed. The team she led created the powerful Microcosm hypermedia system, which was later used commercially with the start-up Multicosm, LTD. For her groundbreaking work, Hall became the first female professor at Southampton. She was also Head of the School of Electronics and Computer Science, from 2002 to 2007.
Hall worked with founder of the Web Tim Berners-Lee as founding director of the Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI). Her work at WSRI helped establish Web Science, the study of behavior and interaction on large-scale networks like the World Wide Web.
Veloso is Herbert A. Simon University Professor in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. She has a master's degree in electrical engineering from Lisbon, Portugal, at the prestigious Instituto Superior Técnico. She received her Ph.D. in computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. Veloso also holds the title of Head of AI Research at J.P. Morgan Bank.
Veloso's research has focused on robotics, a key aspect of artificial intelligence. She has developed systems to enable intelligent autonomous actions by robots, winning the "RoboCup" robot soccer match competition more than once. Her research spans many important aspects of robotics, including navigation, perception, and action. No surprise that Veloso has been in high-demand at CMU, graduating 32 Ph.D. students during her tenure there.
Veloso was made a fellow of the AAAI ("triple AI") in 2003. She is also an ACM Fellow, and won a National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 1995.