History’s Hidden Heroes: Grace Hopper

GraceHopper02This month’s Hidden Hero is Grace Hopper, who lived from 1906 – 1992.  Who’s Grace Hopper, you say?  Oh, she’s just did some programming – by which I mean among other things, she was instrumental in the development of COBAL.  I can’t come close to understanding her computer work, but here’s what I gather – one of the most significant reasons that people can tell a computer to do things other than numerical calculations is that Grace invented the language with which to do so.  Also, she spent a little time in the Navy – by which I mean, she was a Rear Admiral.  Grace’s nickname was “Amazing Grace” and seldom has a nickname been better earned.

Here’s a rundown of Grace’s computer work.  This comes from wvegter.hivemind.net.  During WWII, Grace worked on Harvard I, the first large-scale computer, as well as the Mark II and Mark III.  She was the first female computer programmer – not counting Ada Lovelace, who programmed the very first computer, which is another story in and of itself.

Grace then went on to develop the first compiler.  I am so computer illiterate that as far as I can tell this blog is delivered to your computer in the dead of night, by elves.  But my limited understanding is that a compiler is basically a program that allows a human being to enter commands into a computer in a programming language that is human-friendly, with those commands then being translated into programming language that is more computer friendly.  Among other things, it means that you don’t have to give commands to your computer in binary code.  Grace was instrumental in developing COBAL (Common Business Oriented Language).

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Grace Hopper achieved a rank of Rear Admiral and retired at the age of 80 to become a senior consultant at Digital Equipment Corporation.  Amazing Grace is credited with having polarized the term “debugging” a computer, a term she and her colleagues used after they found an actual bug (a moth) in the Mark II.  Here’s a few quotes by this amazing woman:

A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.  Sail out to sea and try new things.

It’s easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission.

You manage things.  You lead people.

wikiquote has more of her quotes, with the sources listed, and a little more context about the quotes.

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If you really want to know about Amazing Grace Hopper, you HAVE to check out this cartoon from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.  Here’s one teeny panel to lure you in.  READ IT!  DO IT NOW!  Sorry, I was having a moment – it’s really funny!  Here is link:  http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2516

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