Grace Hopper (1906-1992)
“……people are allergic to change, you have to get out and sell the idea.” – Grace Hopper
An inspirational woman by far! She was born in New York at a time in history which is considered rare for a woman to accomplish anything other than to be ‘a good wife’.
Grace Hopper attended Yale University. She was the first woman to obtain a PhD in mathematics. The year was 1934. Hopper was 28 years old. That was only the beginning.
When the electronic computers were starting to revolutionise society, Grace was at the forefront. An outstanding computer scientist, she was a leading player and far exceeded many of her peers. Her work on the earliest computers took place at Harvard University via the United States Navy when she was assigned to the Bureau of Ordinance Computation Project. She went on to develop COBOL – Common Business Oriented Language. This was one of the first computer programming languages. This was a military innovation. It allowed the transformation of the business world.
She invented the A-0 system. A system which was the first ever compiler developed specifically for the electronic computers. Modern day compilers work differently to the original. Grace’s invention worked more as a loader or linker. So! What her invention did was translate symbolic mathematical code into specific machine lingo. How cool is that!
As per usual, Hopper came up against some obstacles along the way. People with no foresight. But! She was a woman of high intellect. Focus. Determination. She, Grace Hopper, was a visionary.
Having accomplished the successful creation of the compiler, she still had to work hard to convince others. After all, there was no way that a computer could possibly write its own program! It took another two years after the completion of the compiler before it was accepted. To quote Grace Hopper,
“…nobody would touch it because, they carefully told me, computers could only do arithmetic; they could not do programs.”
“It was a selling job to get people to try it. I think with any new idea, because people are allergic to change, you have to get out and sell the idea.”
Grace also had the foresight to realise that it was possible to write computer programs in English. After all, letters were simply a different form of symbols. The computer had the capability of recognising this and converting them into the machine-speak required. Throughout history there is ample examples of the ‘establishment’, in their misguided belief that they know best, attempting to discourage those that actually do know best.
I admire Hopper’s philosophy, “…. go ahead and do it. You can apologise later.” This led her to develop the B-0 compiler. This revolutionised the business market. Known as the Flow-matic, its application included the ability to calculate payroll and automatic billing.
Grace Hopper was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Technology and Innovation and the IEEE Emanuel R. Piore Award (a Technical Field Award for outstanding contributions to information processing systems in relation to computer science).
“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.” — Grace Hopper
Kudos to Hopper!
Photo Credit: history-computer.com