Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Computer Greats: Grace Hopper

  One I the things I love about today's technology is its ability to pull things that would seem like they were lost in the void of time, never to be seen again. I was wandering around and I happen to stumble upon something I thought I'd never see. An uploaded set of two videos on Youtube of a 60 Minutes interview of Grace Hopper from nearly thirty years ago.
  Grace Hopper was one of the greatest pioneers of the early computer science and a powerful force in communicating computer science. She was one of the programmers for the Harvard Mark I in 1944, which is landmarked as the beginning of the modern computer era. In 1949, she assisted in the development of the UNIVAC I, the very first commercially produced computer. While working on the UNIVAC system, Hopper created the very first compiler for electronic computer systems. Compilers are incredibly important for modern programmers as they allow to write human readable code which is then translated by the compiler into machine code that the computer is able to run. Later, Hopper participated in the creation of the widely used language COBOL, based on a simpler language she had created earlier. After her retirement from the Navy, Hopper went on a lecture circuit, educating students, military personnel, and business leaders about computer science.

  0:03 Grace laces her talks with a bit of humor and personal history, techniques we've seen as positive speaking techniques in Communicating Science.
  1:35 Grace describes the current frame of the computer science revolution, remarking it is still in its infancy
  3:49 Grace hands out bits of wire to her crowds to give them an understanding of a billion. The wire is cut to the distance light travels in a vacuum in a billionth of a second. She then pulls out a cord of wire nearly a thousand feet long to compare to a micro second.

  The second part of the interview turns a bit away from her contributions and work in the field of computer science and more towards military, politics, and gender.
  Grace Hopper is one of the most important figures in the dawning of the modern computer era. It was a wonderful find to see these videos uploaded of such a keen lady.


  1. This is really cool. I had no idea a woman was so central to the history of CS--thanks for calling our attention to this.

  2. Thanks for digging up this relic of the internet. It is interesting to hear the opinion of someone who was there at the beginning. I really like her analogy for a nanosecond.

  3. Maybe not as widely known, but Grace Hopper was for Computer Science as Carl Sagan was for astronomy and astrophysics. I think this was a great find to share with people.