“Amazing Grace” Hopper, Computer Scientist Pioneer


Grace Hopper Google Doodle 470x140When I noticed today’s Google Doodle, commemorating Grace Hopper’s birthday, I enjoyed learning about her. Grace M. Hopper (1906 – 1992) made significant contributions to computer technology. She was often referred to as “Amazing Grace.”

Grace Hopper earned her Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale in 1934. She had begun teaching mathematics at Vassar in 1931 and was promoted to associate professor in 1941.

In 1943, during World War II, Hopper obtained a leave of absence from Vassar and was sworn into the United States Navy Reserve. She was assigned to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard University as a lieutenant, junior grade, serving on the Mark I computer programming staff.

Grace Hopper also made significant contributions in:

  • developing the UNIVAC1 computer (second US-produced computer)
  • designing the COBOL computer language (one of the oldest computer programming languages)
  • implementing standards for testing computers which were assumed by the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), a.k.a. the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
  • creating the first compiler (a computer program that translates people-friendly code into machine language)
  • advocating to replace large, centralized computer systems with networks of small, distributed computers

Also according to Wikipedia:

In 1952 she had an operational compiler. “Nobody believed that,” she said. “I had a running compiler and nobody would touch it. They told me computers could only do arithmetic.”

Hopper’s belief that programs should be written in a language that was close to English (rather than in machine code or in languages close to machine code, such as assembly languages) was captured in the new business language, COBOL , which went on to be the most ubiquitous business language to date.

Grace Hopper earned the rank of Rear Admiral in the Navy Reserves and was still working until her death, at age 85, as a  a senior consultant to Digital Equipment Corporation. She was interred with full military honors at Arlington Cemetery. Read more about her on Wikipedia.


Commodore_Grace_M._Hopper,_USN

NOTES:

  • Biographical information about “Amazing Grace” from Wikipedia
  • Photo available on Wikimedia Commons
  • Google Doodle on Google December 9th, 2013

4 thoughts on ““Amazing Grace” Hopper, Computer Scientist Pioneer

  1. September 9, 1945
    First instance of actual computer bug being found.

    At 3:45 p.m., Grace Murray Hopper records the first computer bug in her log book as she worked on the Harvard Mark II. The problem was traced to a moth stuck between a relay in the machine, which Hopper duly taped into the Mark II’s log book with the explanation: First instance of actual computer bug being found.

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  2. When I worked at the Washington Navy Yard in 1980-2, I frequently saw then Captain Hopper. She mentored many female officers and was a great role model. She sued the Navy because she had been denied promotion to Rear Admiral solely because of her gender. When she won, she took the rank but refused the pay increase, just to prove that she did it to help those women coming after her, not for the money. She was a great “dame.”

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