The face of the tech industry has, like most industries, tended to be a male one, from scruffy geeks in garages to smug billionaires firing luxury cars into space. But, as is the case with (checks notes) every commercial enterprise ever, the shadows of our connected age hide countless women who are rarely acknowledged for their contributions to the hardware and software that rule our world.
Claire L. Evans, the tech journalist and critic best known as one-half of pop duo Yacht, has spent much of her non-musical career writing for Motherboard and Wired, shining a spotlight on forgotten female thinkers and programmers like Grace Hopper, the mathematician who helped write code for the Mark I computer at Harvard during World War II, and Stacy Horn, the New Yorker who developed the early social network Echo. Those women and many others fill the pages of Evans’ Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet, which serves as a historical corrective to the gushing praise heaped upon names like Paul Baran and Tim Berners-Lee.
“This book emerged out of a series of articles I was writing on women’s stories from the history of computing and interactive design,” Evans says, speaking from her home in Los Angeles. “I did an article about a lost CD-ROM game designer, about cyberfeminists in the ’90s. The more I dug around, the more I realized there were great untold stories, and if I was going to write a book about the computers, this was going to be the one.”
Broad Band starts in the 1800s, when Ada Lovelace sought to bring her mentor Charles Babbage’s analytical engine from theory to reality. Modeled after the loom, the machine would have been able to solve complex mathematical equations in minutes. (Evans writes that Lovelace’s work could be considered “the first computer programs ever written, and all for a machine that never existed.”) But Broad Band spans until the ’90s with Purple Moon, Brenda Laurel’s software company that developed computer games for young girls. It’s a lot of ground to cover, but Evans does it with ease, hitting all the major stops on the journey toward the modern internet and helping translate dense tech concepts for those of us without computer science degrees.
“I have the unique advantage of also being a lay reader,” Evans says. “I don’t have a programming background, and I’m not technical. I had to really go through the ringer to understand a great deal of this stuff. It was a huge challenge. The book was read by many people who know their stuff before it went to press, just to be sure that I communicated these things as clearly as possible.”
Evans also is the first to admit the book is an incomplete history—there are hundreds of women whose efforts and innovations didn’t make the cut.
“The first draft I sent to my editor was basically an encyclopedia,” she laughs.
Though Evans touches on the struggles her subjects went through to get their work recognized, she stops short of diving into the murky, poisonous waters of Gamergate, online harassment, and doxxing that have become terrifyingly commonplace for women who attempt to exist online.
“Frankly, I wanted to focus my energy on honoring everything wonderful that women did,” Evans says. “I didn’t want the history of women in computing to be necessarily about all the bad shit that people see in it. I wanted something that celebrates the effort and doesn’t necessarily give more mileage or more space to those who would doubt, question, and imperil those efforts.”