Mary Lee Berners-Lee, pioneering IT contractor, dies aged 93

The ‘grandmother of the world wide web,’ Mary Lee Berners-Lee, reputed to be one of the first ever freelance programmers, has died. She was 93.

Although she humbly said the title reflected her life’s big contribution -- as web founder Sir Tim Berners-Lee is her eldest son, the achievements in her own career are just as impressive.

She was on the team that in 1951 worked as pioneering programmers on the Ferranti Mark I computer, in what was to become the first ever commercially available electronic system.

Not happy to discover that as women, her and her female colleagues at the Manchester-based firm were being paid less than its male staff, she was informally nominated to lead an equal pay campaign.

In a feat that will inspire female journalists at the BBC today in 2017, the equal pay campaign at the “paternal” Ferranti succeeded, notably about 20 years before the Equal Pay Act even became law.

With a mathematics degree under her belt, she reportedly went on to write a diagnostic program that could locate errors, and created programs to solve up to 40 equations.

But the work wasn’t without its challenges, which she faced due to tiny memory space, and having to write programs on paper before going through it instruction by instruction.

In 1954 she married Ferranti Mark 1 programming teammate Conway, and shortly afterwards, as a young mum, went it alone as a software expert consulting out of their home.

Affectionately dubbed by her ‘cottage industry’ programming, the Guardian understands that her freelance work saw her write programs to track weather balloons and tackle ‘bus-bunching.’

Her clients in her 16-year contracting career included the Air Ministry and London Transport, as well as many other “nice neat little projects”, as she described them, including those requiring Fortran.

The University of Birmingham graduate then returned to maths as a teacher, but her love of IT kicked in again, this time as a project management consultant -- right up until her retirement in 1987.

Mary Lee Berners-Lee passed away on November 29th 2017. She is survived by her husband Conway, her four children, seven grandchildren and three step-grandchildren.

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