Called the “queen of code” and “mother of computing”, Grace Hopper was one of the world’s first computer programmers. Hopper attained a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale University and was a professor of mathematics at Vassar College.
When she attempted to enlist in the Navy during World War II, she was rejected because she was 34 years old, her weight to height ratio was too low (she weighed just 47.5kg) and she was also deemed to be too valuable as a mathematics professor, so she joined the Navy Reserves. Here she worked as part of a Navy effort on the Mark 1 calculating machine during the war.
In 1949 she joined the team developing the UNIVAC 1, the first commercial commuter developed in the US. When Hopper proposed the development of a new programming language that would use entirely English words instead of mathematical codes, her idea was not accepted for 3 years, publishing her first paper on the subject of compilers in 1952.
By 1959, her idea of machine-independent programming languages, was incorporated into the development of COBOL, an early high-level programming language still in use today. From 1967-77 she developed validation software for COBOL and its compiler as part of a COBOL standardisation program for the entire Navy.
Grace retired from the Naval Reserve at age 60 at the end of 1966. However, she was recalled to duty again several times until finally retiring in 1986 at the age of 79 as Rear Admiral Hooper. After retirement she was hired as a full-time senior consultant for DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) lecturing about the early days of computing.
“The most important thing I’ve accomplished, other than building the compiler, is training young people. They come to me, you know, and say, ‘Do you think we can do this?’ I say, ‘Try it.’ And I back ’em up. They need that. I keep track of them as they get older and I stir ’em up at intervals so they don’t forget to take chances.”
During her lifetime, Hopper was awarded 40 honorary degrees from universities across the world. She died in 1992 at 85. In 2016, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.