The Queen of Code

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From FiveThirtyEight:

You probably don’t know the name Grace Hopper, but you should.

As a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, Hopper worked on the first computer, the Harvard Mark 1. And she headed the team that created the first compiler, which led to the creation of COBOL, a programming language that by the year 2000 accounted for 70 percent of all actively used code. Passing away in 1992, she left behind an inimitable legacy as a brilliant programmer and pioneering woman in male-dominated fields.

Hopper’s story is told in “The Queen of Code,” directed by Gillian Jacobs (of “Community” fame). It’s the latest film in FiveThirtyEight’s “Signals” series.

Actually, I’m sure the readers of this blog DO know the name Grace Hopper. But anyway, this is a great film.

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13 thoughts on “The Queen of Code

  1. Here’s another name you should know, and likely don’t:
    Margaret Hamilton. Not the actress, but the Margaret Hamilton that our Apollo astronauts likely owe their lives to, if not just their livelihoods.

    She stands on Grace Hoppers shoulders, and most of us today in the field stand on Margaret Hamilton’s shoulders. She is the Queen of Software as an Engineering Discipline.

  2. From wikipedia: Margaret Heafield Hamilton (born 1936)[1] is a computer scientist, systems engineer, and business owner. She was Director of the Software Engineering Division of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, which developed on-board flight software for the Apollo space program.[2] Hamilton’s work prevented an abort of the Apollo 11 moon landing.[3] In 1986, she became the founder and CEO of Hamilton Technologies, Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The company was developed around the Universal Systems Language based on her paradigm of Development Before the Fact (DBTF) for systems and software design.[4]

  3. A comment seems to have gotten lost, but briefly:
    1) I heard her talk in late 1960ss/early 1970s, attended the party afterwards. As students faded, she was still going strong. She used her nanosecond long cable.

    2) COBOL is still around and will be for a long time, but a good skeptic might want to look into the meaning and provenance of
    “programming language that by the year 2000 accounted for 70 percent of all actively used code”

    What, exactly does that mean, and is it plausible?:
    (Grace’s accomplishments do need unprovenanced numbers, look er up at Computer HIstory Museum

  4. This quote from Wikipedia, for me, shows the breadth of Hamilton’s expertise and the significant impact(s) she had on the field:

    “[S]he produced innovations in the fields of system design and software development, enterprise and process modelling, development paradigm, formal systems modelling languages, system-oriented objects for systems modelling and development, automated life-cycle environments, methods for maximizing software reliability and reuse, domain analysis, correctness by built-in language properties, open-architecture techniques for robust systems, full life-cycle automation, quality assurance, seamless integration, error detection and recovery techniques, man/machine interface systems, operating systems, end-to-end testing techniques, and life-cycle management techniques.”

    For any software engineer to master even a quarter of these is doing well; to innovate in all of them is “Wow!” This is all that “good code engineering stuff” you’re using today (or should be using) to make *quality* software. If you’re using an OS or app that “just works”, she’s one to thank for laying the foundations of code that’s correct & robust.

    (Not to draw away Grace Hopper’s due attention, but Margaret Hamilton deserves to be also listed among the icons of the software world, too.)

  5. I know Grace Hopper by her origination of the term “computer bug” and by her dictum: “It is easier to get forgiveness than permission.” I’ve quoted it on a number of occasions.

    It’s good to see more information about her.

  6. Eek,.typo.
    What, exactly does that mean, and is it plausible?:
    (Grace’s accomplishments do NOT need unprovenanced numbers, look her up at Computer History Museum.)

  7. Grace Hopper worked as a consultant with Digital Equipment Corporation (now part of HP) in the 1980s, while I was a lowly engineer. She was a legend then, and I am glad to see she still is.

  8. I had no idea who Grace Hopper was and I agree with Greg Laden, I should. More people (male and female alike) should know about the people who started what we now do because we have to and what we do in the comfort of our homes. We should know about them to recognize the passion/drive that lead them to their discoveries and inventions. We should be the “resources” Grace Hopper said we are. We should recommend this blog to others and hope their lives are changed just as mine was after reading about and watching the film about her – Grace Hopper.

  9. I never heard about her before, and yet she was such a great woman, amongst many others. Her name was hindered from much publicity probably by the degree of the domination of patriarchy in her time. I shall spread the word: what a man can do a woman can do too!

  10. I worked for the Texas Department of Human Services (now HHSC) back in the ’80s. Our CIO, Dave England, was Naval Reserve and spent his active duty stints in her DC office. In 1985 Dave invited Adm. Hopper to be the keynote speaker at an APWA/ISM gathering here in Austin. I was too busy to attend the conference but wangled time to see her speak. Dave saw me walk in, waved me over and introduced us. He then excused himself. I had an uninterrupted half hour chat with Adm. Hopper; I still have the fistful of nanoseconds. Grace was a pocket rocket. Tiny, perfectly uniformed and an astounding motormouth. I think Dave needed a break and I was the beneficiary. I managed to get out ‘I am thrilled to meet you…’ and little else. Her talk that day was on how organizations fail to adequately place a value on their data, and therefore inadequately protect it. I got the rehearsal and about 5 other threads in my 30 minutes.It was great fun and a wonderful memory.

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