Last Thursday evening, at about 6pm, I received an email, clearly from a mobile device with just the subject: “Have you ever heard of Grace Hopper?” It was from my mother, who by all accounts is the reason I chose engineering as a career path. My mother was my role model, as I embarked on a career path that very few women followed, as a woman engineer. So it came as quite a shock to me that SHE didn’t know who Grace Hopper was!!
My response: “You’re kidding right? The mother of computer science? Of course!!” It’s only now that I realize that my experience as a female engineer, made possible by all of those who went before me, is a path that only I own. This means. also, that not everyone is familiar with some of the amazing women trailblazers in engineering and computer science that ultimately changed the face of engineering in this country and throughout the world. In this case it is quite an astonishing story and one worth telling for those who have not heard of Grace Hopper.
“Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (December 9, 1906 – January 1, 1992) was an American computer scientist and United States Navy officer. A pioneer in the field, she as one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, and developed the first compiler for a computer programming language. She conceptualized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages. She is credited with popularizing the term “debugging” for fixing computer glitches (motivated by an actual moth removed from the computer). Because of the breadth of her accomplishments and her naval rank, she is sometimes referred to as “Amazing Grace”. The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Hopper (DDG-70) was named for her.”
And 60 minutes did a story on her in 1982, which is dated now, but still demonstrates the level of innovation she delivered to the technology industry! Were it not for Grace Hopper, many of us would not be doing what we do.
I couldn’t have said it better my self.
As it turns out, my mom was attending an event in the Silicon Valley called the Women in Vision Awards, hosted by the Palo Alto-based Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology. The goal of the event was to honor three women considered visionaries in the technological field.
“For my whole career I’ve been the only woman in the room and the only one that even knows what an electrical engineer does,” said Prof. Karen Panetta, Ph.D., from Tufts University. I can definitely relate to Dr. Panetta’s sentiments as my career path followed much the same pattern.
It turns out that the Anita Borg Institute is hosting the next Grace Hopper Celebration right here in my backyard of Portland Oregon. I think I just may have to check it out!