Editor’s Note: The following is the third of a 3-part series celebrating Women’s History Month. In this series, our authors share thoughts about women throughout history who have inspired them.
Let me tell you about a superhero named “Amazing Grace”. She is the reason we use the term “debug” and is the “Grandmother" of COBOL, saving us from been stuck working in assembly languages. She was also the champion of computer system standards that would become the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). She earned a Ph.D. from Yale in mathematics in 1934 - one of the first women to do so. When WWII started she volunteered to join the Navy Reserve at the age of 37 and earned the rank of Rear Admiral. She had never worked with a computer until then and become so proficient that she went on to write the first computer programming manual.
Her alter-ego name was Grace Hopper. She was a curious person from the get-go and as a child loved to take clocks apart to see how they worked. Grace was a wonderful mix of rebellious irreverence, an excellent communicator, and spirited collaborator - a perfect formula for a hacker. She had a great sense of humor and we can all thank a bug (a moth) for causing a computer to short out for some of our tech jargon. She even gave David Letterman a run for his money. To honor how awesome ‘Amazing Grace” was, the Navy named one of their destroyers after her, as well as a supercomputer.
Grace was a spirited advocate in teaching and inspiring young people and her later years were focused on being an ambassador. Though she passed away in 1992, her influence and inspiration has not stopped. The Anita Borg Institute’s Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) of Women in Computing Conference has been going strong for 13 years and keeps growing. Working with the Arlington National Cemetery project, here at GISi, gave me the opportunity to field test a mobile app - and also get to visit her interment at the cemetery. I hope to one day to attend GHC as well as to inspire other young women into the amazing world of tech. Who wants to be a superhero? I do!
“Humans are allergic to change. They love to say, 'We've always done it this way.' I try to fight that. That's why I have a clock on my wall that runs counter-clockwise.” – Grace Hopper