Women in Computing History: From Algorithms to Aerospace

Image: MIT Museum


CHM is proud to present Women in Computing History: a lesson for students that explores the key roles women have played in the past, are playing in the present, and will play in the future of computer science, engineering, and space exploration.

In this lesson, students will journey to the past to learn about the important roles of women in computer programming. Then, a quick stopover in the present, where they will watch a video of aerospace systems engineer Ali Guarneros Luna and answer a series of follow-up questions. Last, a trip to the future, where students will think about how women will continue to expand their roles and contributions to computer science, engineering, and beyond. 

Let’s get started!


Ada Lovelace 

Did the first programmer really live in the 1800s? A hundred years before the first computer was developed, an aerodynamics-obsessed daughter of a poet made great strides in the foundations of computer science. Find out how by visiting CHM’s online exhibit devoted to Ada Lovelace and learn about her contributions to mathematics and computer programming.

Visit The Babbage Engine: Ada Lovelace.

Questions to Think About While Reading

1. What subject did Ada study that led her to become the first computer programmer? How did it help?

2. Why was she considered the “prophet of the computer age”?

ENIAC Pioneers 

Fast forward to the 1940s by visiting CHM’s virtual tour of Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing and check out Gallery Stop 5: Birth of the Computer. Listen to the significant contributions women made to computer programming during World War II.

Visit Stop 5: Birth of the Computer on our virtual tour.

Questions to Think about While Reading

1. What was the role of women in programming ENIAC?

2. What problem was ENIAC designed to solve?

Ali Guarneros Luna

From rockets geared toward successful military strikes to rockets that have taken humanity into space; women continue to make significant contributions in the exploration of outer space, where history is still being made.

Watch Broadcom Presents Design_Code_Build’s Rockstar and Aerospace Systems Engineer Ali Guarneros Luna talk about her work at NASA. 


Broadcom Presents Design_Code_Build with Rock Star Ali Guarneros Luna

Questions to Think about While Watching

1. What happened during Ali’s San José State University rocket launch? 

2. Why do you think the launch went the way it did, even though they spent a year planning it? 

3. What facts about the space station did you learn? 

4. What was the name of Ali’s invention and why was it named that? 

5. How do you think the Luke Skywalker satellite orbs “dance” together inside the space station? 

6. Does Ali think it is hard to work at NASA? Why or why not?

Now that you’ve met a handful of women who’ve contributed and “propelled” (flight pun!) us into the future, what do you think that future has in store?

  1. In Ada’s time, career and life options were very limited. How do you think women’s roles in computer science and engineering are reflected in the present and will continue to change in the future?
  2. How can technology help create a sustainable future for humanity? What steps can you take today to help build this future?
  3. Besides Earth’s Moon and Mars, where would you like to see the first woman set foot? What next steps do you think are needed in space exploration?


Design an original timeline that shows important women throughout STEM history. We’ve included some of our favorite women featured in this lesson, can you fill in the gaps with 2-3 important female figures in STEM history?

Share with CHM on Facebook and Twitter for a chance to have your timeline featured!

Use our timeline as a guide.

Related Resources

Still curious about women in STEM fields? We’ve compiled some of our favorite CHM content, relevant books, and websites to help you learn more about important women in STEM fields.




Our thanks to Hicklebee’s Children’s Books in San Jose for helping us select these titles.




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