Jean Sammet was born in New York, New York, in 1928. She holds a B.A. in mathematics from Mount Holyoke College (1948), an M.A., also in mathematics, from the University of Illinois (1949), and an honorary doctorate from Mount Holyoke College (1978).
Sammet started work in the computer field at Sperry Gyroscope in 1955 and supervised the company's first scientific programming group. She also taught graduate courses in programming at Adelphi College from 1956 to 1958.
From 1958 to 1961, she worked at Sylvania Electric Products and managed the basic software development for MOBIDIC, a computer built for the Army Signal Corps. From 1959 to 1961, she served as a key member of the committee that developed COBOL, which became the standard programming language for business applications around the world.
Sammet joined IBM in 1961 and directed the development of FORMAC, a widely used programming language and system for symbolic mathematics. In 1965, she became programming language technology manager in the IBM systems development division and later led IBM's work on the Ada programming language.
She was president of the ACM from 1974 to 1976 and is a world authority on the history of programming languages. Among other honors, she is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (1977).