Dame Vera Stephanie "Steve" Shirley (1933-) is a German-British information technology pioneer, businesswoman and philanthropist.
She arrived in England as an unaccompanied child refugee at the start of the Second World War. After leaving school, instead of attending university, she sought employment in a mathematics/technical environment. In the 1950s, she worked building computers from scratch and writing code in machine language for the Post Office Research Station at Dollis Hill.
In 1962, Shirley founded, with a capital of £6, the software company Freelance Programmers. She wanted to create job opportunities for women with dependents, and predominantly employed women, with only three male programmers in the first 300 staff. The software business grew to employ 8,500 people and was ultimately valued at almost $3 billion. She also adopted the name "Steve" to help her in the male-dominated business world.
Shirley retired at the age of 60 and has since focused on philanthropy. She has given away most of her wealth to charity, particularly focusing on information technology research and medical research into autism.
She was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to industry; Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for services to information technology, and Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) for services to the IT industry and philanthropy.