Raye Montague was 7 years old when she first saw the control panel of a submarine at a museum. When she asked the tour guide how it worked, he replied that understanding that was a job for engineers & she would never have to worry about it.
He was almost right. Because when little Raye grew up & graduated high school, still with a passion for understanding how things worked, she couldn’t get into a single engineering school. Because it was 1952 and she was black. So she went to business school instead.
Being black, female, and in the South, Raye knew that she had three strikes against her when it came to a career, but she also had a slight advantage in that her name was ambiguously gendered, so as long as hiring managers only received her resume, they had no idea that the person behind all that education was a black woman.
When her resume reached the U.S. Navy, someone assumed that with her degree, she knew computers. (She didn’t.) So she taught herself how to use one & write code, and for the next 14 years, she worked her way up the ranks from a system operator to a system analyst. She did her job so well that when President Richard Nixon tasked the Naval Ship Engineering Center with creating a new ship design in 2 months, Raye completed the task in just over 18 hours, becoming the first person to design a U.S. Navy ship with a computer & revolutionizing naval ship design in the process. (For reference, that ship became the USS Oliver Hazard Perry.) She was eventually the U.S. Navy’s first female Program Manager of Ships, as well.
Raye retired in 1990, but along the way, she won a slew of awards, including the Navy’s Meritorious Civilian Service Award and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Achievement Award, the first woman to receive the honor.
Raye suffered tremendous racism and sexism as a black female civilian in the military, even receiving death threats & being warned not to accept one of her awards because a white woman hadn’t accomplished the same. (She accepted it anyway.) But she kept on working & in the end, she didn’t worry about controlling ships - she just designed them from the ground up.