5 of the biggest female names in tech

Women have always had a hand in shaping technology as we know it, and have been there since the very beginning. Let's not forget Ada Lovelace, who wrote the first working computer algorithm based on just a blueprint of Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine, and who perceived from the outset that these computers could do more than just calculations.

While the world debates how to improve gender diversity in the tech industry, let's take some time to celebrate the women who are amongst the biggest movers and shakers in the business today. We've highlighted five here, but the list is considerably longer than that.

1. Gwynne Shotwell - President and COO, SpaceX

Gwynne Shotwell wanted a career in the automotive industry, wound up deciding that aerospace was far more exciting, and now finds herself in a position to have a huge say in the future of commercial space exploration.

Shotwell is the President and COO of Elon Musk's SpaceX programme, and is second in command behind Founder and CEO Musk. She has been with the company since its conception in 2002, joining as its seventh employee.

Since its modest days as a startup, SpaceX has now over 3,000 employees, and is the only commercial company to carry out cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station. SpaceX has a US$1.6 billion contract with NASA for 12 flights, and have completed five to date.

Shotwell says in a Popular Mechanics interview that SpaceX alone "will be saving the US taxpayers two to three billion dollars a year." It's not exactly rocket science then to work out that Musk and Shotwell's efforts might give the American space programme a long-needed shot in the arm.

2. Marissa Mayer - CEO, Yahoo

Travesty is best defined as not having Marissa Mayer - arguably the biggest newsmaker in tech - in a list like this.

While her worldly presence was established at Yahoo, Mayer actually made her professional reputation at Google, where she was their first female engineer. There, she developed her legendary attention to detail. Mayer was involved in some of Google's best-known products, such as Google Search, Google Maps, Google Earth, Street View, Google News, and Gmail, amongst others.

In her short tenure at Yahoo, she has already garnered a tongue-in-cheek reputation as a "spender-in-chief", picking up Tumblr for US$1.1 billion and spending over US$100 million in acquiring 21 companies.

Every action that she takes invites scrutiny. Some critics questioned her stubbornness in not cutting jobs, others praise her decisiveness in making Yahoo relevant in the mobile space, and everyone is discussing the implications of Yahoo spinning off its substantial stake in Alibaba. Even her pose in a Vogue magazine feature gets plenty of traction on the Internet.

Only time will tell if Mayer will prevail in reinventing Yahoo, but until then the world will continue to keep its watchful eye on its most talked-about female CEO.

3. Cher Wang - Co-founder and Chair, HTC

CEO Peter Chou is undoubtedly the face of HTC thanks to his involvement in the design and development of their highly acclaimed HTC One phones. But silently in the shadows, fellow co-founder Cher Wang goes about her mission to bring back the glory days.

Despite the rave reviews of their flagship phones, HTC has not done quite as well in the bean counters' books. Wang, who had been spending more of her time on philanthropic pursuits, has now taken on a bigger role in HTC's day-to-day operations. While she insists that she's just supporting Chou while he focuses on product development, she's effectively been tasked to put HTC back on track on the business front.

Wang's pedigree in the business is unquestionable. Her vision of a future with handheld computing led to the founding of HTC, and the company became synonymous with the earliest touch screen smartphones and deliver world firsts of their own in the form of the first Android smartphone and the first Microsoft phones. She is also one of the co-founders of integrated chipset maker Via Technologies.

Wang's low-key return is very much in line with her unassuming and grounded nature, which may well be what the company needs right now. With Chou and Wang at the helm, HTC may now have their best chance of standing their ground in an increasingly competitive smartphone market.

4. Susan Wojcicki - CEO, Youtube

Susan Wojcicki joined Google as employee number 16 and as its first marketing manager. She has the unusual honour of being the first employee at Google to go on maternity leave, which actually is a testament to her gutsiness in joining an ambitious startup while four months pregnant. It's only slightly less interesting than the fact that she has the honour of being Google's first landlord; the company first set up shop in her garage.

Prior to her YouTube appointment, Susan Wojcicki was the senior vice-president of advertising and commerce at Google, and was responsible for driving many of its signature products such as AdSense, the company's second-largest source of income. Her portfolio once accounted for over 95 per cent of the company's revenue, so it's not a stretch to think that she could well be one of the biggest figures in advertising.

In February 2014, she took up the reins at YouTube presumably with the task of making the company even more profitable. Her appointment will not have come as a surprise, as Susan had initially championed the purchase of YouTube having seen its potential firsthand. And we're pretty sure she'll succeed.

5. Renee J James - President, Intel

Intel is looking at a future beyond the traditional PC market, and the company turned to the dynamic duo of Brian Krzanich (CEO) and Renee J James. Interestingly, James didn't cut her teeth designing or peddling silicon, and is known for her work in no-chip businesses at Intel. Her experience might be what the company needs to thrive in the world of mobile and the Internet of Things (IoT).

James spearheaded Intel Online Services, a foray into data centre outsourcing that was unfortunately way ahead of its time. She managed the Microsoft Program Group at Intel, ensuring seamless integration of hardware and software between the two giants. James was also the executive vice-president of software and services and oversaw products like Havok, McAfee, Meego, Tizen, and Wind River. She holds directorships in leading companies like VMware and Vodafone and advises US President Barack Obama as vice-chairperson of the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC).

James has also taken it upon herself to spearhead Intel's US$300 million Diversity in Technology initiative, marking her as a true mover and shaker in the world of tech, in more ways than one. The initiative seeks to get more women and ethnic minorities into the company, with the aim of achieving workforce diversity that resembles actual demographics by 2020.

Notable mentions

Although women account for only 11 per cent (according to a recent study by Fenwick & West) of executive positions in tech, it's at least comforting to see that this list almost reads like a who's who of technology leaders.

  • Meg Whitman (Ex-CEO of eBay, current CEO of HP)
  • Sun Yafang (Chairwoman of Huawei)
  • Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook)
  • Virginia Rometty (CEO of IBM)
  • Safra Ada Catz (Co-CEO of Oracle)
  • Padmasree Warrior (CTO of Cisco)
  • Ursula Burns (CEO of Xerox)

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