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Grace Hopper Biography

Grace Hopper
 Published on Tuesday February 23, 2021 - 12:03 AM
Pioneer of computer programming
* Development of COBOL *
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Image Info: First woman to ever complete a math PhD at Yale. Grace popularised the term 'bug' and 'debugging' when she found an actual bug, a moth trapped in a relay, in the Harvard Mark II computer causing the problem. Hence the term, 'Computer Bug'.
Grace Hopper
Grace Brewster Murray Hopper was an American computer scientist and United States Navy rear admiral. One of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, she was a pioneer of computer programming who invented one of the first linkers. She popularized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, an early high-level programming language still in use today.

Known as the Grandmother of Computer Programming, Grace invented the first computer program compiler, turning human input into digital format, 1 and 0. She said her greatest accomplishment is all the young people she trained.

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Grace Brewster Murray was born on December 9, 1906 in New York City, USA. Hopper was her married surname.

Her father was Walter Fletcher Murray, an insurance executive; and her mother was the mathematically talented Mary Campbell Van Horne. The couple had three children; Grace was the eldest.

Grace grew up in an academic atmosphere – her parents made sure she had access to all the books she wanted, and they did everything they possibly could to support her curious nature.

In 1910, her father held her at the window one evening to see Halley's Comet, which she thought looked bigger than the full moon. He predicted to his three-year-old daughter that she would live to see the comet return 76 years later.

Her mother once left seven-year-old Grace unattended, and returned to discover her inquisitive daughter had made a tour of their home, collected seven clocks, and dismantled them all.

Grace had started by dismantling just one clock to investigate its mechanism.

Then she panicked because she didn't know how to put it together again.

Trying to figure out how to put a clock together, she got another clock, dismantled it… and you can guess the rest!

The people who change the world are often rebels; people who see the world differently, try to push for something different, something better, looking to the future instead of the past. Grace Hopper was one of those people. She definitely left her mark on the world. Her life is a story of firsts and she was a pioneer in computer programming from the 1930s right through to the 1980s. That alone is enough of a reason to celebrate her as a woman in tech history but she was so much more. She was the Admiral, the pirate, the trouble-maker and she was "Amazing Grace".

Prior to joining the Navy, Hopper earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale University and was a professor of mathematics at Vassar College. Hopper attempted to enlist in the Navy during World War II but was rejected because she was 34 years old. She instead joined the Navy Reserves. Hopper began her computing career in 1944 when she worked on the Harvard Mark I team led by Howard H. Aiken. In 1949, she joined the Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation and was part of the team that developed the UNIVAC I computer. At Eckert–Mauchly she began developing the linker. She believed that a programming language based on English was possible. Her linker converted English terms into machine code understood by computers. By 1952, Hopper had finished her program linker , which was written for the A-0 System. During her wartime service, she co-authored three papers based on her work on the Harvard Mark 1.

In 1954, Eckert–Mauchly chose Hopper to lead their department for automatic programming, and she led the release of some of the first compiled languages like FLOW-MATIC. In 1959, she participated in the CODASYL consortium, which consulted Hopper to guide them in creating a machine-independent programming language. This led to the COBOL language, which was inspired by her idea of a language being based on English words. In 1966, she retired from the Naval Reserve, but in 1967 the Navy recalled her to active duty. She retired from the Navy in 1986 and found work as a consultant for the Digital Equipment Corporation, sharing her computing experiences.

The U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper was named for her, as was the Cray XE6 'Hopper' supercomputer at NERSC. During her lifetime, Hopper was awarded 40 honorary degrees from universities across the world. A college at Yale University was renamed in her honor. In 1991, she received the National Medal of Technology. On November 22, 2016, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

On New Year's Day 1992, Hopper died in her sleep of natural causes at her home in Arlington, Virginia; she was 85 years of age. She was interred with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

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