December 9 – Happy Birthday, Grace Hopper

Posted on December 9, 2015

She was called by some “Amazing Grace.”

And that's because she was so gosh-darned accomplished!

Grace Brewster Murray Hopper (born on this date in 1906, in New York City) was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark 1 computer, invented the first compiler for a computer programming language, and helped develop the idea of programming languages independent of particular machines – which led to the development of COBOL.

Which in turn led to another of her nicknames: Grandma COBOL.

This is the semi-famous moth found
inside a computer.
Hopper is even credited with popularizing the word “debugging” for fixing computer programming glitches. The word “bugs” had been used for a long time – even by Thomas Edison! – for the various causes of technical difficulties, and the word “debugging” had been used for removing causes of technical difficulties in aeronautics. But when working on early computers at Harvard, some of Hopper's associates discovered a moth that had stuck in the relays and was causing a problem, so she quipped that they were debugging the computer. Since the word was already used in similar fields, it grabbed hold right away.

But Grace Hopper wasn't just a computer scientist and pioneer. She was also a United States Navy Rear Admiral.

She volunteered for the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) during World War II, and she graduated from the Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School first in her class. She worked for the military as a computer programmer, starting as a lieutenant, junior grade. She turned down a full professorship at Vassar (a highly respected university) in order to continue with the Navy (really, the Naval Reserve), and by the time she retired at age 60, she had reached the rank of Commander. 

She was recalled to active duty in 1967. Then she was recalled again in 1972. Somewhere in there she was promoted to Captain. Finally, in 1983, Hopper was promoted to Commodore, a rank that was renamed Rear Admiral.

When she finally really retire, she was the oldest active-duty commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy, and she was aboard the oldest commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy.


Applause, applause...

Hopper had a long life and a very, very long career. She won many awards, and everything from Navy ships and computers to parks, schools, and buildings have been named after her. Hopper was awarded 40 honorary degrees from universities worldwide, and a whole lot of awards and scholarships and even a professorship are named in Grace Hopper's honor.

Words of wisdom...

I've included a couple of cool quotes from Hopper on this page, but here is one more:

The most important thing I've accomplished, other than building the compiler, is training young people. They come to me, you know, and say, 'Do you think we can do this?' I say, "Try it." And I back 'em up. They need that. I keep track of them as they get older and I stir 'em up at intervals so they don't forget to take chances.

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