December 9, 2013, 9:05 a.m.
Grace Hopper, known as “the first lady of software,” is celebrated for her computer genius, with a Google Doodle on what would have been her 107th birthday.
The doodle would have been deeply appreciated by Grace Murray Hopper. She rose through the naval ranks to achieve the title of rear admiral. She was a pioneering Navy computer programmer who coined the term “bug” to describe computer woes.
When she retired in 1986, she was the nation’s oldest active-duty military officer. She died Jan. 1, 1992, at age 85.
Hopper, who was nicknamed Amazing Grace, was co-inventor of the business-oriented programming language COBOL and was so key to the Navy’s computer work that she stayed in uniform under year-to-year extensions long after the regular retirement age of 62 to work on the Navy’s computer programs, according to a Los Angeles Times obituary.
Like any great thinker, Hopper was a bit of a contrarian. For one, she had a resume that ran four pages long. (When you’re as accomplished as she was, you can flout the one-page-only rule.)
For another, she was a government worker who took glee in trying out new ideas — and had little patience for rule followers who saw the world only in shades of black and white.
“The only phrase I’ve ever disliked is, ‘Why, we’ve always done it that way,’ ” she was once quoted as saying. “I always tell young people, ‘Go ahead and do it. You can always apologize later.’ “
She was awarded the U.S. Defense Department’s highest honor, the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, for exceptional meritorious service: “She has challenged at every turn the dictates of a mindless bureaucracy,” former Navy Secretary John Lehman said at the time.
Hopper graduated from Yale University with a doctorate in mathematics and joined the Naval Reserve in 1943.
One of her first assignments was working on ordnance calculations, and that led her to program work on the first large-scale digital computer, the Mark I.
Later, she worked on the concept that led to COBOL, a programming language tool used by businesses.
Clearly, she was a computer genius. But Hopper’s influence is invoked countless times a day by those of us who are far from geniuses with computers.
Hopper is credited with coining the word “bug” and laying the foundation for the term “debug” to label computer problems and steps taken to fix them.
Such was her influence that the Navy named a destroyer vessel after her. You can see it in the photo gallery above.
Happy birthday, Amazing Grace!
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