December 08, 2017

Grace Hopper at the UNIVAC keyboard, c. 1960. Credit: Flickr / Public.Resource.Org

She’s been called “the first lady of software.” A conference named after her attracted over 18,000 attendees last year. She had her own Google doodle. She was even on Letterman.

It’s fair to say that Grace Hopper is one of the most celebrated coders ever. But, behind all the accolades, who was she? And how exactly did she change technology? We talk with Kurt Beyer, author of “Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age.”

Three Takeaways 

  • Hopper only got into computing because of World War II. Before the war, she was teaching mathematics at Vassar College. Within six months after Pearl Harbor, that changed. “She had left her husband, quit her job, and was trying to get into the Navy,” Beyer says. And it was the Navy that assigned her to work on programming.
  • COBOL, the language that Hopper created in the late 1950s, was the first programming language written in actual English. And it’s still used in 90% of financial transactions.
  • Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg are especially indebted to her work. According to Beyer, “all of those people’s careers, livelihoods, and fortunes, are based on the innovations of Grace Hopper. Without Grace Hopper, there is no layer of software, no computer scientists that build billion dollar companies.”

More reading 

Kara Miller, WGBH, Coding, innovation hub, Software, Kurt Beyer, pri

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