Last week I had a post on Ada Lovelace, a fascinating figure that one of my colleagues brought to my attention. I was so interested to hear that a girl of such prodigious literary pedigree was well ahead of her time with respect to her understanding of the computational capabilities of machines.
Now another great figure in technical history is brought to my attention by none other than the winner of the chess set design contest, Joe Larson. So, hat tip there.
As context, I’ll remind that Ada Lovelace’s translation of Luigi Menabrea’s book regarding Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine – a translation which included her own extensive notes and what would in retrospect be regarded as the first computer program – were not republished until 1953. By that time, today’s heroine Grace Hopper, then 46 years old, had
- Attained a Master’s degree and a PhD from Yale, both in Mathematics
- Graduated first in her class at the Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School
- Coauthored several papers on the Harvard Mark I computer
- Coined the term “debug”, after removing a moth from the hardware
The timing of Grace Hopper’s accomplishments with respect to the republication of Ada Lovelace’s notes is neither here nor there, but if you’re curious about the proportion of PhD’s that went to women in 1934, this graph from the National Science Foundation makes it pretty clear:
It was also right around that time in 1953 that Grace Hopper developed the first ever compiler for a computer programming language. Before Grace Hopper, or I should probably say Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, computer software had to be written in an assembly language. From the Computer History Museum:
In 1952, mathematician Grace Hopper completed what is considered to be the first compiler, a program that allows a computer user to use English-like words instead of numbers. Other compilers based on A-0 followed: ARITH-MATIC, MATH-MATIC and FLOW-MATIC [software].
It doesn’t take a computer scientist to recognize what a fantastic contribution this was to the future of computer programming. A huge salute to the late great Grace Hopper!
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