Karen Coates grew up in rural northwest Washington state, then graduated from Mills College (Oakland CA) with a degree in mathematics. She describes lessons learned in running FORTRAN programs at nearby Cal State Hayward, a summer internship at IBM, and then work with UC Berkeley’s Laura Gould that led to computer-science teaching at Mills and at Stanford University. Continuing her computer science education at Northwestern University, she met many Bell Labs women working there on master’s degrees and applied herself for a job at Bell Labs. She began work at Bell Labs Naperville in 1974 as a Member of Technical Staff assigned to 4ESS then moved to the Computation Center and worked on the Bell Laboratories Network, an early packet-switched network. She describes working at Bell’s Murray Hill (NJ) facility with Bjarne Stroustrop, during the time he developed “C with Classes” which evolved into C++. Returning to Naperville/Indian Hills, she took up managerial positions in the networking project and then in switching-system applied research. She relates her experiences with the 1970s women’s movement and the supportive network of women colleagues. She left Bells Labs in 1985 and moved to California, where she worked for a subsidiary of TRW on military intelligence systems; a communications company called Octel; a startup venture; and a health-care enterprise celled Omnicell. She describes subtle transformations in gender discrimination in the 1980s and in Silicon Valley.
This material is based on work funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation award B2014-07 “Tripling Women’s Participation in Computing (1965-1985).”