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About Grace Brewster Hopper (Murray)
Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (December 9, 1906 – January 1, 1992) was an American computer scientist and United States Navy officer. A pioneer in the field, she was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, and developed the first compiler for a computer programming language. She conceptualized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages. She is credited with popularizing the term "debugging" for fixing computer glitches (motivated by an actual moth removed from the computer). Because of the breadth of her accomplishments and her naval rank, she is sometimes referred to as "Amazing Grace." The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Hopper (DDG-70) was named for her, as was the Cray XE6 "Hopper" supercomputer at NERSC.
Early life and education
Hopper was born Grace Brewster Murray in New York City. She was the oldest in a family of 3 children. She was curious as a child, a life-long trait. At the age of seven she decided to determine how an alarm clock worked. She dismantled seven alarm clocks before her mother realized what she was doing; she was then limited to one clock. For her preparatory school education, she attended the Hartridge School in Plainfield, New Jersey. Rejected for early admission to Vassar College at age 16 (her test scores in Latin were too low), she was admitted the following year. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Vassar in 1928 with a bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics and earned her Master's degree at Yale University in 1930.
In 1934, she earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale under the direction of Øystein Ore. Her dissertation, New Types of Irreducibility Criteria, was published that same year. Hopper began teaching mathematics at Vassar in 1931, and was promoted to associate professor in 1941.
She was married to New York University professor Vincent Foster Hopper (1906–1976) from 1930 until their divorce in 1945. She never remarried, and she kept his surname.
World War II Naval service
In 1943, Hopper obtained a leave of absence from Vassar and was sworn in to the United States Navy Reserve, one of many women to volunteer to serve in the WAVES. She had to get an exemption to enlist; she was 15 pounds (6.8 kg) below the Navy minimum weight of 120 pounds (54 kg). She reported in December and trained at the Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Hopper graduated first in her class in 1944, and was assigned to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard University as a Lieutenant, junior grade. She served on the Mark I computer programming staff headed by Howard H. Aiken. Hopper and Aiken coauthored three papers on the Mark I, also known as the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator. Hopper's request to transfer to the regular Navy at the end of the war was declined due to her age (38). She continued to serve in the United States Navy Reserve. Hopper remained at the Harvard Computation Lab until 1949, turning down a full professorship at Vassar in favor of working as a research fellow under a Navy contract at Harvard.
In 1949, Hopper became an employee of the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation as a senior mathematician and joined the team developing the UNIVAC I. In the early 1950s the company was taken over by the Remington Rand corporation and it was while she was working for them that her original compiler work was done. The compiler was known as the A compiler and its first version was A-0.
In 1952 she had an operational compiler. "Nobody believed that," she said. "I had a running compiler and nobody would touch it. They told me computers could only do arithmetic."
In 1954 Hopper was named the company's first director of automatic programming, and her department released some of the first compiler-based programming languages, including ARITH-MATIC, MATH-MATIC and FLOW-MATIC.
In the spring of 1959 a two day conference known as the CODASYL brought together computer experts from industry and government. Hopper served as the technical consultant to the committee, and many of her former employees served on the short-term committee that defined the new language, COBOL. The new language extended Hopper's FLOW-MATIC language with some ideas from the IBM equivalent, the COMTRAN. Hopper's belief that programs should be written in a language that was close to English rather than in machine code or languages close to machine code (such as assembly language) was captured in the new business language, and COBOL would go on to be the most ubiquitous business language to date.
From 1967 to 1977, Hopper served as the director of the Navy Programming Languages Group in the Navy's Office of Information Systems Planning and was promoted to the rank of Captain in 1973. She developed validation software for the programming language COBOL and its compiler as part of a COBOL standardization program for the entire Navy.
In the 1970s, she pioneered the implementation of standards for testing computer systems and components, most significantly for early programming languages such as FORTRAN and COBOL. The Navy tests for conformance to these standards led to significant convergence among the programming language dialects of the major computer vendors. In the 1980s, these tests (and their official administration) were assumed by the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), known today as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
Hopper retired from the Naval Reserve with the rank of Commander at the end of 1966. She was recalled to active duty in August 1967 for a six-month period that turned into an indefinite assignment. She again retired in 1971 but was asked to return to active duty again in 1972. She was promoted to Captain in 1973 by Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr.
After Rep. Philip Crane saw her on a March 1983 segment of 60 Minutes, he championed H.J.Res. 341, a joint resolution in the House of Representatives which led to her promotion to Commodore by special Presidential appointment. In 1985, the rank of Commodore was renamed Rear Admiral, Lower Half. She retired (involuntarily) from the Navy on August 14, 1986. At a celebration held in Boston on the USS Constitution to celebrate her retirement, Hopper was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the highest non-combat award possible by the Department of Defense. At the moment of her retirement, she was the oldest commissioned officer in the United States Navy (79 years, eight months and five days), and aboard the oldest commissioned ship in the United States Navy (188 years, nine months and 23 days).
She was then hired as a senior consultant to Digital Equipment Corporation, a position she retained until her death in 1992, aged 85.
Her primary activity in this capacity was as a Goodwill Ambassador, lecturing widely on the early days of computers, her career, and on efforts that computer vendors could take to make life easier for their users. She visited a large fraction of Digital's engineering facilities where she generally received a standing ovation at the conclusion of her remarks. Although she was an interesting and competent speaker, the most memorable part of these talks was her illustration of a nanosecond. She salvaged an obsolete Bell System 25 pair telephone cable, cut it to 11.8 inch (30 cm) lengths (which is the distance that light travels in one nanosecond) and handed out the individual wires to her listeners. Although no longer a serving officer, she always wore her Navy full dress uniform to these lectures.
She was laid to rest with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery; Section 59, grave 973.
Throughout much of her later career, Grace Hopper was much in demand as a speaker at various computer-related events. She was well known for her lively and irreverent speaking style, as well as a rich treasury of early war stories. She also received the nickname "Grandma COBOL".
While she was working on a Mark II Computer at Harvard University in 1947, her associates discovered a moth stuck in a relay and thereby impeding operation, whereupon she remarked that they were "debugging" the system. Though the term computer bug cannot be definitively attributed to Admiral Hopper, she did bring the term into popularity. The remains of the moth can be found in the group's log book at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
Grace Hopper is famous for her nanoseconds visual aid. People (such as generals and admirals) used to ask her why satellite communication took so long. She started handing out pieces of wire which were just under one foot long, which is the distance that light travels in one nanosecond. She gave these pieces of wire the metonym "nanoseconds." She was careful to tell her audience that the length of her nanoseconds was actually the maximum speed the signals would travel in a vacuum, and that signals would travel more slowly through the actual wires that were her teaching aids. Later she used the same pieces of wire to illustrate why computers had to be small to be fast. At many of her talks and visits, she handed out "nanoseconds" to everyone in the audience, contrasting them with a coil of wire nearly a thousand feet long, representing a microsecond. Later, while giving these lectures while working for DEC, she passed out packets of pepper which she called picoseconds.
In a treatise on the leadership style of Steve Jobs, Jay Elliot described Grace Hopper as appearing to be "all Navy" but when you reach inside, you find a "Pirate" dying to be released.
The famous quotation "It's easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to get permission" (EAFP) is often attributed to Grace Hopper.
Rear Adm. Grace Hopper's Timeline
December 9, 1906
New York, New York County, New York, United States
January 1, 1992
Arlington, Arlington County, Virginia, United States
Arlington, Virginia, United States