Tech pioneer discusses women and computers


Nomi Guillén Trapnell, a retired Hewlett-Packard executive, is scheduled to discuss “Women and Computers: Then and Now” 10:15 a.m. Thursday at Los Altos Hills Town Hall, 26379 W. Fremont Ave.

Trapnell’s presentation will review innovative technologies that advanced computing, as well as the women who played key roles. As one of the few early female computer visionaries, she will address the declining numbers of women in technology today and offer suggestions for attracting more women to computer science programs.

“When I started at Lockheed, I was called a scientific programmer. There were no computer science degrees, and if you could do the job, you got hired,” she said.

Armed with degrees from Hofstra University in political science and San Jose State University in mathematics, Trapnell found she could do the work, and since Lockheed was involved in the space industry, it was fun.

Recent studies, like one by software platform Carta, find that Silicon Valley women continue to earn less than men. In addition, they tend to have less equity. Carta surveyed 6,000 plus companies and found that women own 9 percent of founder equity.

A native of El Salvador, Trapnell helped develop several computers featured in the “Revolution” exhibition at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. A docent at the museum since 2014, she showcases the Babbage difference engine, created by inventor Charles Babbage in the 1820s and ’30s. The machine is based on a mathematical principle, the method of divided differences. Babbage developed the analytic engine as well. Trapnell also leads the museum’s K-12 workshops and its Women in Computing tours.

Trapnell started her next computer job at Control Data. She became an early female software product development manager for the CDC6600, working her way to the head of system design for all CDC6600 products developed in the Sunnyvale division.

Her credentials include working for more than 40 years at noted Silicon Valley companies. At IBM-Siemens-Rolm, Trapnell became vice president of product development for the PhoneMail line, an early voice messaging system. At Siemens-Rolm, she served as vice president of strategy for the private networking system. She also worked at Amdahl as manager of virtual machine products. She later moved to HP Compaq, where she was program manager for the Tandem division’s NonStop Server Net and enterprise storage products.

During her long career, Trapnell managed all aspects of product development, including design, development, test and product management. She noted that she introduced software engineering steps that improved product quality, reliability and time to market.

She has received numerous awards, including the YWCA of Silicon Valley’s Tribute to Women in Industry award, the IBM Achievement Award and the Compaq Outstanding Accomplishment Award.

Currently she devotes her time to community service. She has served as chairwoman of the Los Altos Historical Commission and as president of the Los Altos History Museum and the Los Altos and Los Altos Hills Newcomers Club. The longtime Los Altos resident is married to Frederick “Fritz” Trapnell, whose career at IBM and HP also spanned decades.

In recognition of her community work, Trapnell received the 2013 Los Altos/Los Altos Hills Joint Community Volunteer Service Award.

Trapnell’s presentation is sponsored by the Los Altos and Los Altos Hills Newcomers Club. Admission is free and open to all.

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