An animated Doodle on the Google homepage honours American computer scientist and US Navy rear admiral Grace Murray Hopper, one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer and the woman credited with the development of COBOL.
In cartoon form, Hopper sits at a desk inputting commands for a giant computer using COBOL. She types “SUBTRACT BirthYear FROM CurrentYear GIVING Age. DISPLAY Age.”
The computer chews up this code, dials turn, lights flicker, binary code leaks out and, at the end of the process, it spits out the result reading “107”, which is exactly the age Hopper would have been today.
Then, a moth flies out of the computer.
In 1947, as Hopper worked on a Mark II Computer at a US Navy research lab, a moth stuck in a relay was causing problems and her colleagues set about removing it. Hopper quipped that they were ‘debugging’ the system – adapting the term ‘bug’, which was already used to refer to engineering glitches.
Commodore Grace Murray Hopper, USNR, photographed in 1984 by James S Davis
The remains of this particular bug have been preserved in the group’s log book at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.
From compiler to COBOL
But Hopper was more than just the generator of a popular computing term. She also developed the first compiler (a computer programme that transforms source code written in a programming language to another computer language) and, in 1954, her department at the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation produced some of the first compiler-based programming languages, including MATH-MATIC and FLOW-MATIC.
This led to the development of COBOL (common business-oriented language), which was an extension of FLOW-MATIC and captured Hopper’s belief that programmes could be written in a language close to English. COBOL became the most ubiquitous business language to date and, in 1997, Gartner claimed it powered 80pc of the world’s business.
Hopper was sworn into the US Navy Reserve in 1943, during World War II, and later became the first woman to reach the rank of admiral. In her later years lecturing on early computing in the Digital Equipment Corporation, she always wore her full naval uniform even though she was no longer a serving officer.
Often referred to as ‘Amazing Grace’, Hopper has inspired many female programmers and the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is the world’s largest gatering of women in computing. Ireland’s own female-friendly coding club Coding Grace is named after her.
Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s year-long campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths
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