In the realm of software, a “branch” is a computer instruction that causes a shift from the default pattern of activity to a different sequence of actions, a different way of moving ahead if you will. For Ann Hardy, a pioneer in timesharing software and business, her contributions to computing—detailed in her recent oral history with the Software History Center—were achieved through repeated, creative branching in the face of sexist discrimination. A serious challenge came in the early 1950s as an undergraduate: Despite her interest, she was not allowed to major in chemistry. That was for men only. Hardy branched. The physical therapy major allowed her to take all of the chemistry and technical classes she wanted.
In the mid-1950s, at the suggestion of a childhood friend and fellow mathematics lover, Hardy stopped by IBM’s offices at 57th and Madison Avenue in Manhattan and took a computer programming aptitude test. Passing with flying colors, she took a six-week course and aced the final exam. The top 10 percent of the class was promised a job in sales, the pinnacle of IBM, but upper management eventually decided this could not apply to women. Hardy branched. She became an IBM programmer instead, making important contributions to the software for the Stretch supercomputer. Stretch led to a job at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where Hardy first experienced the then novel timesharing approach to computing. Thrilled by the possibilities of interactive computing, in 1966 she convinced a pioneering startup in the field, Tymshare, to hire her to write their timesharing operating system. They did.
To learn about further branchings by Ann Hardy in her rise to an executive at Tymshare and then to a cofounder of a secure-computing firm, read her oral history on the CHM website or watch her oral history on our YouTube channel.
“If Discrimination, Then Branch: Ann Hardy's Contributions to Computing” was published in the Computer History Museum’s 2018 issue of Core magazine.