Queens of Code are the women who worked in information technology at the National Security Agency in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. For the first time, this women’s tech history project is collecting their stories, experiences, and insights to share with the public. Because these women’s jobs were often top secret and they worked on the most sensitive national security programs, they couldn’t discuss what they did; in many cases, they couldn’t even confirm they worked there. Queens of Code is bringing the NSA’s computing women out of the shadows — allowing them to claim their rightful place in history and the ever-evolving story of how technology has altered America’s position in the world. Much as Hidden Figures did for the women of NASA and Code Girls did for the female code breakers of World War II, this project sheds lights on how women served our nation, created innovations in technology, and expanded women’s career opportunities for the generations that followed. Hopefully the stories will be an inspiration to young women as well as men and encourage them to pursue STEM careers.
Many of our Queens of Code were recruited by NSA right after college and worked in technology for 30, 40, and even 50-year careers. Starting from data systems interns and rising to senior leaders and computer science experts, we were on the forefront of computer technology development. In the 60s, 70s, and 80s, our agency had the most sophisticated computers in the world as well as the most challenging information processing requirements. By 1970, NSA had over 100 computers spread over 5 acres of computer rooms at a time when most companies had one or none. And our inventory grew rapidly over the next decades as we worked with many vendors to drive new system development to meet our big data processing needs. The Queens of Code made a daring leap into a new career field of computer science and found innovating, exciting and rewarding careers that contributed to the high-tech world we live in today.
Our stories may also provide some insight to companies today who struggle to recruit and retain women in tech. Overall, NSA did a lot right over a 50-60 year period to recruit and retain their computing women. They invested in us through training, intern programs, and advanced degrees, paid us equal starting salaries with the men, gave us responsibility and credit, promoted many of us to senior management and technical positions, and provided a good work/life balance. Of course there were some struggles along the way, but our Queens of Code feel good about our careers and what we accomplished.
Over the coming months, we’ll be posting some our stories and our current journey to tell them.