Thank you, Gladys, for mapping the world. Meet the Hidden Hero of GPS

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Rafał Sałak

Updated May 26, 2024 • 4 min read

Netguru is proud to present the sixth story in the Hidden Heroes series, a publishing initiative promoting the under-represented software industry pioneers, authored by Steven Johnson.

Some people will only recall Google Maps and the voice advising them to turn left at the roundabout. However, the road to creating the digital world was long and was led by a remarkable woman: Gladys West, the next Netguru's Hidden Hero.

Warsaw/July 28, 2022. Big ideas are born to make people's lives easier. We can't help but admire Gladys West's history and her journey through life's heels. We cannot deny that she was born in a time when women, particularly those of different ethnicities, were undervalued, and we must give her the recognition she deserves. Her innovations as a mathematician and computer programmer, developed initially for the US government as part of the Cold War race between America and the Soviet Union, have forever changed the world.

“Historically, being a woman in technology was difficult. Being a Black woman in tech was even more difficult. Gladys West's idea, contribution, and demonstration of extraordinary mindset should inspire all young girls who aspire to be mathematicians and astronauts. She’d walked a long way, mapping the Earth and helping create what we now call GPS.” said Steven Johnson, television host, TED Speaker, and author of the Hidden Heroes series. “Born in a small town in Virginia, living on a farm, her story is a truly inspiring one, and a part of our tech history that is too often neglected...”

Gladys Wes’s story is the sixth story in the planned eight-part series for this year. She is best known for her contributions to the mathematical modeling of the shape of the Earth and her work on developing satellite geodesy models that were eventually incorporated into the Global Positioning System (GPS). In 1986, West published Data Processing System Specifications for the Geosat Satellite Radar Altimeter, a 51-page technical report from The Naval Surface Weapons Center (NSWC). This was achieved by processing the data created from the radio altimeter on the Geosat satellite, which went into orbit on March 12, 1984.

Click here to read Glady’s story.

“Women's under-representation in technology is a well-known issue.” Małgorzata Madalińska-Piętka, Chief Financial Officer at Netguru, the Hidden Heroes publisher. “According to the most recent figures, only 5% of women in the UK are CTOs. Why? We'll never find out. Gladys West's story, contributions to the tech world, and everything she has accomplished today are just a few examples of the power of women in tech. Paying her tribute is part of the bigger picture: to influence all girls worldwide interested in science and technology.”

Hidden Heroes was launched to speak about and recognize individuals who might have been somewhat forgotten. What West has achieved during her life and her contribution to not only GPS but also to NASA and military systems can be easily called a miracle.

“It is unbelievable how far I have traveled,” West says. “I didn’t know how far I was until I took a step back and looked at the whole picture.”

The idea, born in the head of an 8-year-old little girl in Virginia, implemented for military purposes, and commercialized for long-distance flights, has changed our life. Every day, when starting our Google Maps, we should all thank Gladys.

Steven Johnson and Netguru believe that Hidden Heroes will help people understand our society better and connect the past with the future to inspire future generations of innovators, developers, and software engineers.

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Rafał Sałak

Comms Team Lead
A tribute to people who shaped technology  Authored by Steven Johnson     MEET HIDDEN HEROES

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