Grace Hopper

Posted: October 22, 2008 in First in Her Class, Navy, Technology

Navy Rear Admiral “Amazing Grace” Murray Hopper (1906-1992) revolutionized the world and you probably didn’t even know it.

Lead inventor of the Harvard Mark I & II computers, largely considered to be the first computerized calculator, and inventor of the first compiler for a computer programming language, this gal changed life as we know it, from the PC sitting on your desk to how your toaster knows when your bread lightly done. I don’t think I need to enumerate how this affected the spy trade.

Grace was born and raised on the East coast, received Ivy-covered degrees in mathematics and physics from Vassar, went on to Yale for graduate degrees in more of the same, and eventually called it a day after receiving her PhD in mathematics. Hailing from a family with a military tradition dating back to the Revolutionary War, Grace joined the Navy in 1943. Grace bounced around a lot during her career usually holding more than one job all the while, but one thing remained consistent and that was her military service.

But back to the computer thing, here’s what this dame did to really set the world on its ear: she invented FLOW-MATIC, a computer language that is the proverbial mother of COBOL: Common Business Oriented Language, one the the very few original computer languages that is still in use today. Basically, Grace invented a way to take the English language and translate it into a mathematical language a computer could understand. This was back in 1959, think about it, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were not even four years old.

Grace had a long and illustrious career in computers and the Navy. She served both until the day she died and upon the heaps and heaps of honors and accolades she received, the coolest has to be that the Navy named a guided missile destroyer (appropriately enough) after our gal Grace. The USS Hopper is one of only a handful military vessels named after a broad.

Amusing little fun facts about Grace: she coined the term “debug”, when you remove a glitch from a computer system, and the quote “It is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission” is attributed to her.

And my favorite: “A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what the ship was built for”.


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