The queen of code: Grace Hopper’s impact on the world of computing

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The queen of code: Grace Hopper’s impact on the world of computing

It's been a year since OpenAI released ChatGPT, and the world has largely embraced the technology—so much so that there is hardly any going back. We’ve arrived at this moment thanks to the foundation in modern programming, computing, and artificial intelligence laid by pioneers in the field during the past century. A key figure among them is Grace Hopper, also known as “the queen of code”. She is a visionary computer scientist, naval officer, and one of the first coders of the Harvard Mark I computer. She also invented the first compiler for a computer programming language. This is her story of grit, resilience, and a ‘Never give up’ attitude.

“The only phrase I’ve ever disliked is, ‘Why, we’ve always done it that way.’ I always tell young people, ‘Go ahead and do it. You can always apologize later.'”

-Grace Hopper

Early years: Nurturing the seeds of curiosity (1906-1934)

The year was 1906. Like Grace Hopper, it was a time when the very concept of computing was in its infancy, not to mention the presence of women in STEM. Grace's father, Walter Fletcher Murray, introduced her to mathematics and science, subjects she later majored in at Vassar College. In 1928, she graduated with honors, earned her bachelor's degree, and set off on a less common path for women of her era.

Undeterred by the challenges in a male-dominated field, Grace pursued her master's degree in mathematics from Yale University and earned her doctorate in 1934.

From Naval officer to computer programmer (1934-1949)

With the United States’ entry into World War II, Grace chose to contribute to the war effort. She was initially rejected for her age and diminutive size, but with persistence, she eventually secured a waiver to the U.S. Naval Reserve. In 1943, after sixty days of intensive training, she received her commission as a lieutenant junior grade and was subsequently assigned to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard University.

Her team worked on the IBM Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator, also known as Harvard Mark I, the first electromechanical computer in the United States. Following this, she continued to actively work on classified projects essential to the war effort, such as computing rocket trajectories, creating range tables for new anti-aircraft guns, etc. Post the war, from 1946 to 1949, she helped develop the Mark II and Mark III computers

Fun fact: Grace coined the term "debugging" when she literally removed a moth from the Harvard Mark II computer.

Inventing A-0, the first compiler (1949 - 1952)

In 1949, Grace joined the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation as a senior mathematician. During her time there, she created A-0, the first compiler, which translated mathematical code into machine-readable code, in 1952. This was an important step toward creating modern programming languages.

Shaping the world of programming (1953-1959)

In 1953, Grace presented the concept of coding using words instead of symbols. Despite being told that her idea wouldn't succeed, she persisted and carried on to develop an English-language compiler. By 1956, her team was successfully using FLOW-MATIC, the first programming language to run on word commands. She also showcased how programs can be written in languages other than English.

Grace's determination to create word-based programming and computing languages played a vital role in expanding the community of computer users.

With the rise of several computing languages, Grace participated in the Conference on Data Systems Languages, aiming to create a universal business language applicable across various industries. This resulted in COBOL. Although many contributed to COBOL's creation, Grace is widely acknowledged, specifically for her work designing COBOL, developing its compilers, and encouraging its adoption.

Recognition of excellence

Among the various awards, in 1991, Grace Hopper received the National Medal of Technology, one of the United States' most esteemed honors for outstanding technological achievement.

Grace’s memory and achievements are celebrated annually with the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC)—a series of conferences that bring women in computing to the forefront. The celebration is designed to bring the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront, allowing them to connect with peers, learn from experts, and explore opportunities in the field.

At a time when women were underrepresented in the sciences, her achievements are a testament to breaking barriers, challenging the status quo, and adapting to the tides of technology.

“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.”

-Grace Hopper

Inspired by Grace Hopper, we introduce the gr·ai·ce initiative, aiming to create a vibrant community that:

  • Empowers women to lead in AI innovation and adoption
  • Champions diversity in the field of AI development
  • Fosters lifelong learning and community in AI

Learn more here.

Nivedita Bharathi
Nivedita BharathiMember of Marketing Staff

Nivedita is a developer-turned-marketer and a SaaS enthusiast. She loves all things content and writes about customer support, CX, and CRM.

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