While studying Computer Science & Engineering Technology in college, Grace Hopper’s name appeared in various parts of history.  I recognized her name and some of her contributions to the field, but the part that wasn’t talked about in college was her military career.  Add to it that I never looked up her picture, as I figured she was a figure of the past but no longer with us.  This led to my awful post a few years ago, which to this day I feel very remorseful of.  However, while preparing my History of Women in Tech talk, I delved a bit deeper into Admiral Hopper’s life.

Tell us about Grace Hopper’s diverse story.

  • She served many roles:
    • Teacher – BA in Math & Physics, MA & PhD in Mathematics
    • Military Servant
      • Joined Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service), commissioned as a lieutenant 6 months later
      • Taught for the US Naval Reserve while working for companies
      • Promoted to commodore in 1983, took the title of admiral in 1985 when the titles were merged.
      • Retired from the Navy in 1986
      • Buried with full Naval honors in 1992
    • Computer Genius
      • Worked on Mark I, Mark II, Mark III
      • Created 500-page Manual of Operations for the Automatic Sequence-Controlled Calculator
      • Worked on the first compiler, the A-O series
  • She wanted to bring the computer to a much wider audience – not just to scientists 0 through programmer-friendly and application-friendly tools.
    • Promoted collaboration among the programmers on her teams.
    • Created FLOW-MATIC – using English to describe automatic billing and payroll calculations, the UNIVAC I and UNIVAC II could run these programs.
    • Worked on COBOL.
    • Promoted language validation, starting with COBOL.  This led to national and international standards.

What can we learn from Admiral Hopper?

  • Don’t be afraid to challenge “We’ve always done it that way.”  Just because it’s been done that way in the past doesn’t make it right today.
  • Collaboration with other developers tends to make life a lot easier.
  • By bringing it down to plain English, computing is no longer just for programmers and mathematicians.  It’s more approachable by non-technical people.