While studying Computer Science & Engineering Technology in college, Grace Hopper’s name appeared in various parts of history. I recognized her name and some of her contributions to the field, but the part that wasn’t talked about in college was her military career. Add to it that I never looked up her picture, as I figured she was a figure of the past but no longer with us. This led to my awful post a few years ago, which to this day I feel very remorseful of. However, while preparing my History of Women in Tech talk, I delved a bit deeper into Admiral Hopper’s life.
Tell us about Grace Hopper’s diverse story.
- She served many roles:
- Teacher – BA in Math & Physics, MA & PhD in Mathematics
- Military Servant
- Joined Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service), commissioned as a lieutenant 6 months later
- Taught for the US Naval Reserve while working for companies
- Promoted to commodore in 1983, took the title of admiral in 1985 when the titles were merged.
- Retired from the Navy in 1986
- Buried with full Naval honors in 1992
- Computer Genius
- Worked on Mark I, Mark II, Mark III
- Created 500-page Manual of Operations for the Automatic Sequence-Controlled Calculator
- Worked on the first compiler, the A-O series
- She wanted to bring the computer to a much wider audience – not just to scientists 0 through programmer-friendly and application-friendly tools.
- Promoted collaboration among the programmers on her teams.
- Created FLOW-MATIC – using English to describe automatic billing and payroll calculations, the UNIVAC I and UNIVAC II could run these programs.
- Worked on COBOL.
- Promoted language validation, starting with COBOL. This led to national and international standards.
What can we learn from Admiral Hopper?
- Don’t be afraid to challenge “We’ve always done it that way.” Just because it’s been done that way in the past doesn’t make it right today.
- Collaboration with other developers tends to make life a lot easier.
- By bringing it down to plain English, computing is no longer just for programmers and mathematicians. It’s more approachable by non-technical people.