This week I have been showing the movie "Top Secret Rosies" to my freshmen students. It’s a wonderful story about some long unsung heroes of both World War II and computing. As introduced on the related web page:
In 1942, when computers were human and women were underestimated, a group of female mathematicians were recruited to complete secret research for the US Army. Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of WWII is a one hour documentary that shares the little known story of the women and technology that helped win the war and usher in the modern computer age.
I show this movie for several reasons. An obvious one is to show how women have long been involved in computing. Their role has been ignored far to often. The students, not surprisingly the girls especially, notice how women were not given full credit for their work at the time. This is a great starting point for conversation. I want my students to understand though that women have and continue to contribute important things to computing even when men are getting most of the attention.
Another, perhaps less obvious, reason is to help students realize how important the software is to the hardware. When I hear students, mostly male this time, talk about the hardware specifications of computers, tablets and cell phones I realize their don’t really appreciate the importance of the software that makes those devices useful. The movie highlights how important the work of these pioneering women was in making the computer actually useful. I also like how they talk about the women debugging the hardware by knowing the complete system so well.
We often talk about Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper when we talk about the history of computing and software. These are important people but there are more women we can talk about and show as examples for all of our students.
Related post: Teachers and Role Models in CS Education