Horn-rimmed Awesomeness: “Amazing Grace” Hopper
The first time I saw a picture of Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, I experienced a true double-take. She reminded me of my old piano teacher, and half all the librarians I ever knew. I found it hard to connect this image with what I knew she had accomplished.
If she were a man, it would have been enough to be a rear admiral in the US Navy. That would have assured her a small place in history. Being a woman, her place is assured.
But wait, there's more.
She was also one of the most important computer scientists ever.
"Why haven't we heard of her?" you might say. I don't really know. In my opinion, her contributions are more essential than those of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs combined.
Hopper developed the first compiler. I could stop right there. Every modern computer language is written in a human-readable form. A compiler converts it to machine-readable code. Without compilers you wouldn't have all the fancy computer programs, apps, and interfaces to which you are accustomed. Hopper changed everything.
Hopper came up with the idea of machine-independent programming languages.
Hopper popularized the term "debugging."
Hopper developed several of the first compiler-based programming languages.
Hopper was the technical lead for the committee that defined COBOL (They say, more actively used code is written in COBOL that any other language -- even now in 2012!)
Hopper was the first person from the United States and the first woman of any nationality to be made a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society.
Hopper received the Defense Distinguished Service Medal.
Hopper received the National Medal of Technology.
The USS Hopper (DDG-70) is named for her. Nicknamed "Amazing Grace", it is one of very few U.S. military vessels named after women.
I can't think of anyone, man or woman, who is anything like her. A unique computer scientist who should be remembered for her great accomplishments, her wit, and her ability to succeed in a non-nurturing environment. Jay Elliot once described her as appearing to be "all Navy" on the outside, but when you reach inside, you find a pirate dying to be released.