Sunday, December 9, 2012

Grace Hopper

“The most damaging phrase in the language is ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” 

—Grace Hopper 

Grace Hopper (1906–1992), pioneer in computer programming, first woman U.S. Navy Rear Admiral

Grace Murray Hopper, a native of New York City, received a BA in mathematics and physics from Vassar College in 1928, then continued studying mathematics at the graduate level at Yale University. She earned an MA from Yale in 1930 and in 1934 became the first woman to receive a PhD from Yale. She was a faculty member at Vassar from 1931 to 1943. She joined the US Naval Reserve in 1943 and graduated from Midshipman’s School in 1944 with the commission of lieutenant (junior grade). She was assigned to the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard, where she worked on the Mark I, an early digital computer. She remained at Harvard until 1949, working on various incarnations of the Mark computers.

The Mark I was 8’ tall, 51’long, used 500 miles of wire and weighed 5 tons.

Hopper next began working at the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation (later Remington Rand, then Sperry Rand). During this time she developed the first computer compilers, including the first English-language compiler.

In 1966 she retired from the Naval Reserves, having by that time achieved the rank of Commander. She was recalled the following year to join the Chief of Naval Operations’ staff as director, Navy Programming Languages Group. Here she was tasked with standardizing the Navy’s computer languages. By 1973 she was promoted to captain, and by 1985 she became the first woman to be awarded the rank of rear admiral.

One for the log books: the first literal "debugging" 
of a computer—the moth that messed up the Mark II.
Called the Grand Lady of Software, Amazing Grace, and Grandma COBOL, Hopper was the recipient of numerous awards and accolades, including being named a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (1962), being named the first computer science Man (!) of the Year by the Data Processing Management Association (1969), becoming the first person from the U.S. and first woman named Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society (1973), being awarded the National Medal of Technology (1991), and being inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994. She also received a Distinguished Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, and Naval Reserve Medal. The list of her awards goes on and on. For a longer, but by no means complete, list visit the Naval History and Heritage Command. Here you will also find a more in-depth biography, recollections, and interviews. 

Hopper loved young people, and is remembered for her leadership qualities and engaging speaking abilities. Here she is explains what a nanosecond is.

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