Enter the maze

Juggling priorities

Juggling balls reflected

Women have been innovating in the area of telecommunications for a long time. A big problem for telecom companies is how to cope when there is too much traffic. If they deal with it badly, no one ends up being able to get through (see How Madonna crashed the Internet). Erna Schneider Hoover, was one of the first people to tackle this problem. Back in the 1960s telephone exchanges were mechanical. An automatic system had replaced the operators who previously had connected calls by plugging wires into a board to link the telephone lines of the caller and the person they wanted to talk to. The mechanical ones were able to do this automatically based on the numbers dialed, but couldn't if too many people were trying to make calls at once. Erna sketched the solution to the problem from the hospital shortly after the birth of one of her three children. It involved a computerized switching system that was able to juggle the things it had to do much better, dropping less urgent tasks like record keeping and charging when things got busy. Telephone switches have been using her ideas ever since.