According to Beyer, Grace Hopper is arguably as important a figure to computing as Bill Gates, Larry Ellison and Steve Jobs, and serves as a responsible, civic-oriented role model for current and future technical and business leaders.
A Hollywood movie about the life of computer pioneer Grace Murray Hopper (1906-1992) would go like this: a young professor abandons the ivy-covered walls of academia to serve her country in the Navy after Pearl Harbor and finds herself on the front lines of the computer revolution. She works hard to succeed in the all-male computer industry, is almost brought down by personal problems but survives them, and ends her career as a celebrated elder stateswoman of computing, a heroine to thousands, hailed as the inventor of computer programming. Throughout Hopper’s later years, the popular media told this simplified version of her life story.
In Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age, Kurt Beyer goes beyond the screen play-ready myth to reveal a more authentic Hopper, a vibrant and complex woman whose career paralleled the meteoric trajectory of the postwar computer industry, and discusses the indelible contribution she made to the nascent computer industry.
Hopper made herself “one of the boys” in Howard Aiken’s wartime Computation Laboratory at Harvard, then moved on to the Eckert and Mauchly Computer Corporation. She was influential in male-dominated military and business organizations at a time when women were encouraged to devote themselves to housework and childbearing. Hopper’s greatest technical achievement was to create the tools that would allow humans to communicate with computers in terms other than ones and zeroes. This advance influenced all future programming and software design and laid the foundation for the development of user-friendly personal computers.
March is Women’s History Month and the Computer History Museum is proud to showcase the career and accomplishments of a genuine innovator, Grace Hopper. Among her many awards, Grace Hopper was the Computer History Museum’s first Fellow award recipient for her development of programming languages, computer instruction, and her lifelong naval service. The complete list of her awards and degrees exceeds two full pages, including the National Medal of Technology and 37 honorary doctoral degrees.
She is most definitely a role model – but not just for women. Author Kurt Beyer, who met Hopper while he was a student at the U.S. Naval Academy, says she influenced his own career choices – first as a naval officer, then as an academic, and finally as an entrepreneur.
Don’t miss what is certain to be a lively and inspiring discussion, moderated by Northern California Public Broadcasting’s Chief Content Officer Linda O’Bryon.
Computer History Museum
1401 N. Shoreline Boulevard
Mountain View, CA, 94043