Four Inspiring Women in Technology

By Alyssa Kritsch | 1 year ago | No Comments

Grace Hopper, 1952.
Grace Hopper, 1952.

To kick off Women’s History Month, we want to recognize four amazing women who have helped changed the space for women in technology. These women inspire us as engineers, marketers, innovators and entrepreneurs. They have helped pave the way for more discussion and understanding of gender equality and professional/ personal balance in the 21st century.

Grace Hopper, Ursula Burns, Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer are not only pioneers within their industries, but self made success stories. They are some of the most powerful business leaders and thinkers in history.

The Innovator

Grace Hopper Google Doodle

“It is often easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.”

Grace Hopper

Often noted as the ‘Queen of Software’, Grace Hopper is one of the most iconic faces in the history of technology. Her quick wit and risk taking personality, complimented by her intelligence and powerful legacy of leadership, makes her a timeless role model innovators and entrepreneurs.

With her most notable achievement being the invention of the first compiler in 1952 for the A-0 programming language, Grace Hopper was at the forefront of the computing revolution. She was the primary designer of COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language), one of the oldest programming languages, and worked on the first ever large-scale automatic digital computer in the United States, the Mark I at Harvard.

Interesting fact, Hopper is credited with coining the term “bug in the system” after one time in 1945 when, after a circuit malfunction, she discovered a 2 inch long moth in the Mark I machine.

The Tech Hustler

Image courtesy of Fortune Live Media
Image courtesy of Fortune Live Media

“I was raised by a wonderful mother in the rough and tumble public housing projects on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Many people told me I had three strikes against me: I was black. I was a girl. And I was poor”

Ursula Burns

Ursula Burns represents much of what we hope to see in the future of women in technology and business. She is strong, self made and tried and tested proof that the American dream is a real for women and minorities of all social levels. In her excerpt on, Burns discusses how taking risks at an early age was the make or break point in her career. Burns enrolled in a technical school in Brooklyn and completed her undergraduate degree in engineering before signing on to an internship at Xerox in upstate New York. Eventually she attended an ivy league school for her Masters and soon after got hired on full time with Xerox.

Now, Ursula Burns is the Chairman and CEO of Xerox and the first African-American woman to head a fortune 500 company. Starting as a summer internship 1980, Burns slowly worked her way up the ladder eventually taking the CEO position in 2009. She instigated major acquisitions that have led to the resurgence of the brand transforming Xerox from a printing company to a technology and services enterprise.

The Gamechanger

Image courtesy of World Economic Forum
Image courtesy of World Economic Forum

“The time is long overdue to encourage women to dream the possible dream”

Sheryl Sandberg

Joining the billionaires club, Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook and the first ever woman to sit on the company’s board of directors. Before Facebook, Sandberg was VP of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google and held notable positions at both the World Bank and the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.

Sandberg’s book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead” hit stores in 2013 and has been a hot topic in the tech and business world. During her book tour, Sandberg spread the message to  women across the country to take leadership, be aggressive and fight workplace stereotypes of gender. Sandberg has taken big steps in starting the conversation about women, and helped bring to the table topics on balancing between personal fulfilment and professional success. Not only that, but she has started conversations on supportive marriage models and actively combats the myth that women must sacrifice either family life or career in order to ‘do it all’.

Sandberg is a leader not only in the technology and finance industries, but a role model for women all over the world.

The Titan

Image courtesy of JD Lasica
Image courtesy of JD Lasica

“I love technology, and I don’t think it’s something that should divide along gender lines.”

Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer is the President and CEO of Yahoo!, joining the company in 2012 after a long tenure at Google. In 1999, when Mayer joined Google, she was the company’s first female engineer. She later climbed the corporate ladder from engineer to designer, product manager and eventually into a high level executive position.

On the day Mayer was announced CEO of Yahoo!, she also shared that she was pregnant. For other women hustling in the business world, this signaled a turning point in our understanding women and the career. Not only did Yahoo! appoint a female CEO, but also knowingly hired a woman with a quickly growing family. Recently Mayer announced a parental leave policy for Yahoo! employees that includes eight weeks leave for both moms and dads plus $500, impressive compared to most policies across the United States.

Not only a admirable parent and professional, Mayer has been recognized for her fierce leadership skills and aggressive attitude towards product perfection. Since joining Yahoo!, she instigated a major overhaul to Flickr, redesigned the brand’s frontpage and lead the massive $1.1 billion acquisition of blogging service Tumblr.

Happy International Women’s Day to women across the globe. We want to know what women inspire you, Comment below.

Written by

Alyssa Kritsch
Alyssa Kritsch moderator

Hello @AMDEV  and thanks for your comments, I’m really glad you brought these points up for discussion.

First off, let me comment on the rhetoric of this article. The unifying concept within the piece is the ‘self-made’, powerful female technology executive. This is laid out in the introduction and applies to each of the women highlighted.

As for the emphasis of Ursula Burns' educational merits. I’m sincerely disappointed that you feel this is a justification as to why a woman of colour is in a CEO position. What this portion of the article is highlighting as inspiring is not the fact that she is a person of colour, but the fact that her socio-economic position gave her zero breaks.

This is a stark contradiction to the experiences of both Mayer and Sandberg, who breezed into two of the top American universities (Sandberg at Harvard and Mayer at Stanford) with the luxury of finances and an uninhibited undergraduate/ post-grad education. As a young woman myself coming from socioeconomic hardships and pursuing an education and career in this industry, Ursula Burns is a role model I wish I had when I was 16 or 17. 

As for the use of the label ‘The Tech Hustler’. Alas, ‘hustler’ has entered tech industry jargon as the go to buzzword for someone who is enterprising or entrepreneurial. And is usually used in the explanation of a male’s aggressive advancement in his professional, profit seeking career. Here, given the dynamic layers to this language choice, I will admit it was a poor choice. It potentially reinforces stereotypes that, although I don't personally respond to, some readers may. 

I very much appreciate your comments, but I don’t think ceasing to write about women of colour in leadership roles is a solution to the wider issue here. We instead need to better educate ourselves and each other so that all minorities can feel fairly and equally represented.

I'd love to continue this discussion, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @AlyssaMK


This is a direct message to the author of this article.

I really have issues with your offensive stereotypes in the section on Ursula Burns!

Why is it that a successful Black female CEO 'must be' described as strong, even though she probably is. All the other women in this article are "strong", self-made (on one level or another), tried and tested! ALL these women were "tested" on their paths to becoming CEO's. However, only Ms. Burns has that written 'about her specifically', as if to assure your readers that 'see' she is qualified and worthy too! And, you then write about her academic credentials, as if to further prove your point.  (you did not do this with Mayer and Sandberg)

You wrote almost nothing of 'detail' on what Ms. Burns has 'accomplished or influenced' during her current tenure as a CEO and corporate leader. (compared to what was written about Mayer and Sandberg). Why is this?

Please spare us, the argument about space limitations! You should have used the space you had to write about the areas mentioned above and, not wasted it, on reassuring your readers that even though Ms. Burns is a Black female, she "merits" being a CEO. (Oh gee readers, just check-out her academic credentials.)

As a person of color and a techie, I am "beyond tired" of seeing (and reading) this type of lazy (at best), patronizing and demeaning attitude by writers and others, who see themselves as supporters of 'All' women in the general tech related industry. It is "particularly irritating" to read what you wrote about Ms. Burns because it "invokes" a prevailing belief and its wide acceptance, that any person of color in a corporate "leadership" role should and would,  automatically have their background "merit or qualification" called into question! (meaning...

how could 'that type' of person get such a position) So, the author took care of, well you know, that kind thinking for the readers. And wow, Burns is a "strong" person too! (meaning we all "know" Black women are)

I saved the *worse offense* from section for last. This being the "inexcusable" header title for the section on Ms. Burns. "The Tech Hustler". Seriously. I'll be blunt here, it is Really Offensive! And, it smacks of racist thinking. Or, no thinking, whichever applies.The header for the section on Ms. Burns is so wrong, on many levels, one barely knows where to start.

I do have a "strong" suggestion for Hootsuite and the author Ms. Kritsch.

Until Hootsuite can find a writer/s who are more socially, culturally and racially knowledgeable of other people in the wider US population, and outside of 'their' own immediate community and workplace, just "refrain" from writing about any more women of color in leadership roles, at tech industry related firms!  (this should not be difficult task)

For ambitious persons of color at tech related firms, dealing with ALL the issues on a daily basis that 'don't involve' actual work responsibilities on the way to the C level, is more than enough to tolerate. One does not need to read articles that suggest, (intentionally or not, this sort of writing is still NOT excusable) that a "strong" CEO of color (with all that implies for some) reached the C level of a firm, because she is a "Hustler". With, gee, added educational background merits too!

Again, the author of this article, wrote a section on Ms. Burns that is straight-up Offensive!


@AMDEV I appreciate the author returning a response to my review of her article. However, I don't believe based on most of your comments, that you "really understand" my take (as a person of color and a techie) on the content featuring Ms. Burns at all. Which is unfortunate!

I still stand by my suggestion, that a writer with more "in-depth" views on the topic of people/women of color in the tech industry, is the direction the Hootsuite blog should follow.