Grace Hopper: Science Hero, Role Model

One of my favorite computer science heroes is Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. She stands as the perfect role model for anybody in the tech industry today, but especially for women. She studied math early on and got her Ph.D from Yale 30 years before Yale accepted women as students. She joined the Navy at the age of 38, when WWII began, and was one of two women to work on a 13-person team during the war to calculate ballistic solutions on one of the early computers, called the Mark I. She was second in command.

Admiral Hopper wrote the first computer manual—not just for the Mark I, but the first manual for all computers. She basically invented software patching by taping over punch-card holes to correct errors. She is famous for actually finding the first physical bug in a program: a moth that got itself trapped inside the computer causing a circuit to malfunction. She wrote one of the first compilers that transformed English-like instructions into machine language—instructions that a computer could execute. Admiral Hopper also created an early programming language called Glow-Matic, which was essentially the precursor to Cobol.

In her personal and professional life, she exemplified the hacker ethic. She flew a Jolly Roger flag in her office and smoked like a chimney. She believed that asking permission was harder than asking forgiveness. She believed that software should be free of charge and that the most dangerous phrase in any organization is, “We have always done it that way.”

Admiral Hopper, we salute you.