Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, one of the early computer programmers, is the person we have to thank for making programming languages easier to understand.
Born in 1906 in New York, Hopper earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale in 1934 and taught mathematics at Vasser until the start of World War II. In 1943, Hopper received a leave of absence to enrol with the US Navy reserves, despite being too light for the Navy’s regulations.
It was during her time with the Navy that she programmed the Mark I computer and from there she went on to work for private firms where she developed an operational compiler.
“Nobody believed that. I had a running compiler and nobody would touch it. They told me computers could only do arithmetic.”
This compiler allowed computer language to be translated from one form into another, meaning that computers no longer needed to be programmed in binary.
She also developed COBOL, one of the first computer programming languages.
Ever debugged a computer? If it weren’t for Hopper you wouldn’t have. The term “debugging” comes from her notes. While working on the Mark II computer for the US Navy in 1947, Hopper discovered a moth in the machinery and removed it, annotating it in her notes as “First actual case of bug being found” (see right). Since then finding an issue in a computer system has been referred to as finding a bug.
“Humans are allergic to change. They love to say, “We’ve always done it this way.” I try to fight that. That’s why I have a clock on my wall that runs counter-clockwise.”
Hopper was an extraordinary woman. She was the first woman to be a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society in 1973 and the first woman to receive the National Medal of Technology in 1991. She was truly inspiring and a wonderful role model for all women working in STEM.