Francine (Jones) Schmitz, who as near as I (her daughter) can tell is completely unknown in the annals of women in tech, graduated with a masters degree in nuclear physics in the late 50s. She was hired by Aerojet contracted to NASA in 1960, as one of a team of five scientists charged among other things with cataloging all the components of first the Gemini rocket, followed by the Apollo rockets and nuclear subs. Both the internet and the computers behind it were in the process of being born, and she developed a lot of the code that was later embedded in ROM. She wrote most of the code for the first versions of data compression software – although a man on her team got the credit (he was on a 6 mo leave at the time, so no, he did not do it) and she architected and wrote a great deal of the original relational database code – they needed one, and such a thing didn’t exist. This team was an early user of the darpanet and contributed to early internet protocols as they had to build what they needed from the ground up in all respects.
She didn’t talk about her work while she was doing it, because it was all classified until the mid 70s. After leaving Aerojet in California when they lost the NASA contracts to Texas, she worked for the state of California as a Civil Engineer, designing Highways, Salmon ladders, and writing a great deal of technical documentation. Later she was put in charge (in the 80s and 90s) of putting first California’s Employment Department, and then the California Tax department on the Internet.
She was truly a pioneer of computing and of the Internet. She has always been reticent about her accomplishments and has said at times that she didn’t mind that the men took credit for her work – but I don’t think that was really true – I think she minded a lot, and just buried her feelings on the subject.
Written by Vicki (Schmitz) Fletcher, daughter of Francine (Jones) Schmitz