Answered By: Celita Ávila
Last Updated: Nov 18, 2015     Views: 23

Grace Hopper was a computer scientist! Known as "the first lady of software," she programmed the first programmable computer, the Mark I, and designed and developed the COBOL programming language. So you would not be using a computer right now if it weren't for her.

From your Biography in Context database:

In 1943, Hopper joined the U.S. Naval Reserve, attending midshipman's school and obtaining a commission as a lieutenant in 1944. She was immediately assigned to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard. The project, directed by Howard Aiken, was developed to devise a machine that would assist the navy in making rapid, difficult computations for such tasks as laying mine fields. In other words, Aiken was in the process of building and programming America's first programmable digital computer--the Mark I.

For Hopper, the experience was both disconcerting and instructive. Without any background in computing, she was handed a code book and asked to begin computations. With the help of two ensigns assigned to the project, Hopper began a crash course on the current state of computation by way of what Aiken called "a computing engine."

The Mark I was the first digital computer to be programmed sequentially. Thus, Hopper experienced the complexities and frustration that have always been the hallmark of the programming field. The exacting code of machine language could be easily misread or incorrectly written. To reduce the number of programming errors, Hopper and her colleagues collected programs that were free of error and generated a catalogue of subroutines that could be used to develop new programs. By this time, the Mark II had been built. Aiken's team used the two computers side by side, effectively achieving an early instance of multiprocessing.

Also, and I love this story, she found the first real bug in a computer:

By the end of the war, Hopper had become enamored of navy life, but her age--a mere forty years--precluded a transfer from the WAVES into the regular navy. She remained in the navy reserves and stayed on at the Harvard Computational Laboratory, where she continued her work on the Mark computer series. The problem of computer errors continued to plague the Mark team. One day, noticing that the computer had failed, Hopper and her colleagues discovered a moth in a faulty relay. The insect was removed and fixed to the page of a logbook as the "first actual bug found." The words "bug" and "debugging," now familiar terms in computer vocabulary, are attributed to Hopper.

So whenever you have a "buggy" computer program think of Grace!


More resources on Grace Hopper in the library:

Grace Hopper and the invention of the information age 

SAC 3rd Floor Stacks  QA76.2.H67 B49 2009

Grace Hopper : admiral of the cyber sea

SAC 3rd Floor Stacks  V63.H66 W55 2004

Improbable warriors : women scientists and the U.S. Navy in World War II

SAC 3rd Floor Stacks  Q141 .W617 2001