WiSW5: Grace Hopper

GRACE HOPPER (1906-1992)

Grace Hopper is one of the first programmers of the modern computing age. Her work and career as a programmer and naval officer led to the development of many computer languages example of which is COBOL.

Armed with a master’s degree and PhD in mathematics from Yale, Hopper worked in the private sector and the US Navy. She was instrumental in the WWII as she spent her time in the laboratory as a researcher and scientist responsible for classified calculations of weapons and tools like anti-craft guns and minesweepers. She was also involved in the mathematics that powered the design of the plutonium bomb.

Grace Hopper

In Hopper’s bid to make sure programming is not only restricted to engineers, mathematicians and scientists, she decided to develop programmes that are language friendly to everyone.

In 1952 her programming team at Remington Rand developed the first computer language “compiler” called A-0. Compilers translated mathematical code into machine-readable binary code, and they would eventually make it possible to write programs for multiple computers rather than a single machine.

Her next programming language developed by team was called Flow-Matic which is the first programming language to use regular English-like words as commands.

As the use of computer languages for business purposes grew, Hopper was part of the individuals who contributed to the development of COBOL (short for “common business-oriented language”) in 1959.

Afterwards, Hopper went further to promote the language and its adoption by both military and private-sector users by the 1970s. By that time, COBOL became the world’s most used computer language.

When she retired as a rear admiral at age 79 as the oldest serving officer in the U.S. Armed Forces. Hopper became a well-recognized figure toward the end of her life. She was the recipient of more than 40 honorary degrees.

Grace Hopper retired at age 79

In 1991 President George Bush awarded Hopper the National Medal of Technology, the nation’s highest technology award; she was the first woman to be so honored as an individual.

In 1996 the Navy commissioned the U.S.S. Hopper, a guided missile destroyer. Kurt Beyer, author of “Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age,” suggests that Hopper achieved so much attention and even “celebrity” late in life because a Republican Congressman from Illinois saw an interview with Hopper on “60 Minutes” in 1983. After seeing the interview he successfully introduced a bill to have Hopper promoted to the rank of commodore.

Hopper died in 1992 and was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

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