The programmer who defied her time

Stephanie Shirley was for many, for a long time, just “Steve.” With that name she signed hundreds of letters to advance her pioneering software business. The programmer who challenged her time fought against sexism in the 1950s and 1960s. She created jobs exclusively for women and installed such revolutionary ideas as working remotely (or from home). Today she is 91 years old and almost US$3 billion.

She was the first independent programmer in the world. She was born in Dortmund, in Germany. In 1939, at age 5, she had to separate from her father, a Jewish judge, and her mother, in the face of the growing Nazi threat. She took refuge in Great Britain. Since she was little, she was very outstanding in mathematics.

Stephanie Shirley is the programmer who defied her time.
Stephanie Shirley is the programmer who defied her time.

Signing as Steve

He began working at the Post Office Research Station. He was leading the development and use of computers in the United Kingdom. Stephanie helped write computer programs, something quite unusual for the time. It was a difficult time. “I got absolutely fed up with sexism. I learned to stand with my back to the wall so no one could pinch my butt. And I learned to stay out of the way of certain people. Eventually, I had enough and left,” she added.

In 1962 he started his own computer company, called “Freelance Programmers.” It seemed to be crazy. She was a woman, she only had US$10 and her office was her dining room. «They literally laughed at me. “At that time the software It was given as a gift, so it was a new idea to try to sell it,” he says. But he worked hard. He wrote hundreds of letters to potential clients. He wanted to convince them that software was the best way to take advantage of a computer.

Faced with so much refusal, he began to sign his letters as “Steve Shirley.” This is how he managed to have answers and clients. The company's first 300 employees were women. They worked from home, which was revolutionary at that time. It had 4,000 women at its peak.

She is the first independent programmer in the world.
She is the first independent programmer in the world.

Global success

The programmer who defied her time was already known worldwide in the 1980s. Her clients were leading companies from all over the world. Her company was valued at billions of dollars. The United Kingdom awarded her the noble title of “Dame” in 2000 for her “information technology services.” The one closest to her is still called “Steve.”

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