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Four People to Thank for Your Smart Gadgets

by on March 2, 2016

March 8 is widely recognized as International Women’s Day – a day to celebrate and recognize the achievements of women everywhere and to make progress on the social and economic disparity so many still face around the world.

Decades ago, we could never have imagined the smart home, let alone smart thermostats that would run algorithms using data from outdoor weather temperature, room occupancy, and your personal preferences, to heat and cool your home in the most energy efficient and comfortable way possible.

Sometimes we take for granted that you can just use a mobile app to turn off your home air conditioner from work, while your partner is scheduling in the family vacation, all the while software is being updated in the background, and that your ecobee can handle it all in stride.

So today we recognize and appreciate the uphill battles that brilliant, female engineers and mathematicians overcame to have their ideas, designs and inventions accepted and acknowledged by their peers.

We would like to celebrate a few of the incredible women who make our work and products possible. Without them, there would be no ecobee – and there would be no smart home! We also take a moment to appreciate how gender diverse our own team is and to invite anyone interested in joining us to check out ecobee.com/careers for opportunities. It’s an exciting time to be at ecobee.

Ada Lovelace brings heart to science

We start with Ada Lovelace, whose interest in mathematics and logic started when she was a child. She was the very first person to program a computer by giving it a logical set of instructions that got it to complete something useful. Until then, you might say that the computer was only a machine with great potential – until that potential was unleashed by Ada Lovelace.

Ada Lovelace
Image credit: Alfred Edward Chalon [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Grace Hopper gives language to code

Decades later, Grace Hopper built on Ada’s ideas and invented the compiler, making it possible for programmers to write human-readable instructions that could be understood by a machine. Before then, we were dependent on being fluent in machine code (zeroes and ones) which made programming highly specialized, difficult, expensive, time intensive and error-prone. Grace Hopper made several incredible contributions to computer science making it possible for developers and programmers to work quickly, securely, and reliably. In fact, using human-readable language is why so many people, children included, can learn to program today.

Grace Hopper
Image credit: By Unknown (Smithsonian Institution) – Flickr: Grace Hopper and UNIVAC, CC BY 2.0

Margaret Hamilton controls the complexity

Then came Margaret Hamilton’s contributions. At NASA, she developed software for the Apollo moon-landing using all of the tools described above – and more – adding her own transformative contribution. Until this point, when a computer ran into something it wasn’t programmed for (say, the outdoor temperature hit 102°F but we had only programmed it up to 99°F) the entire computer system would freeze or crash – the dreaded runtime error. Human lives and incredible discoveries depended on Margaret Hamilton’s designs. She devised ways for software and hardware to be compartmentalized, organized, prioritized and self-checking so that “crashing” was not an option. She gave computers a way to determine what the most important task was at any time and to focus on completing that.

Margaret Hamilton
Image credit: By NASA (http://threefingeredfox.net/?p=143) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Radia Perlman creates connectedness

Our final nod (this year!) is to Radia Perlman. We  have to extend thanks to Radia Perlman for her work that made wi-fi enabled devices possible. Radia invented specific algorithms and protocols to give computer systems the ability to talk to one another – and accurately deliver their message. Without her discoveries, networks could not engage effectively with one another to make smart decisions and do useful things for us. Many people contributed to the development of the Internet; Radia Perlman made sure that the networks could get the message across.

Radia Perlman
Image credit: By Scientist-100 at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

So this International Women’s Day, we are humbled at ecobee by the incredible contributions of women and girls to science, engineering and computing, and for making the connected world we enjoy today possible.