Even in 2018, women in the military remains an off-limits subject for many people. No matter which branch, it seems there just isn’t as much faith in a female soldier or sailor as there is in a male of the same rank. If you think it’s hard for a woman to hold her own in modern times, try doing it in the 1950s.
While most women were still expected to cook, clean, and care for their children while their husband brought home the bacon, Grace Hopper was busy being a badass Navy Rear Admiral.
Grace Hopper: Programming Pioneer
As if it wasn’t cool enough to serve her country alongside men who may not have been the most supportive, Grace went above and beyond to leave a lasting impact in the field of technology; an impact that lives on still today. She is most notable for her efforts in designing Common Business-Oriented Language (COBOL), which is based on the FLOW-MATIC language that she designed in 1958.
Prior to Hopper’s innovation, computers only spoke to each other using binary code. This made it difficult for humans to follow along with everything and decipher what was being communicated most of the time. By inventing a program that people could read and understand, Hopper became partly responsible for the programming boom of the 1960s and 1970s, in which more men and women became interested in computing, coding, and technological communication.
“We’re only at the beginning. We’ve been through the preliminaries. We’ve got the Model T. That’s where we are now.”
Her Impact on Modern Computing
COBOL isn’t as cutting edge as it once was, but we’ve used it to come pretty far in the last 60 years. According to a Computerworld survey, 53 percent of the organizations that responded said that they were using COBOL to build new business applications.
Why isn’t COBOL as widely used these days? According to system engineer Robert Collins it’s fairly simple – we’re growing! “Back when COBOL took the stage, there were only so many options available to a company. Nowadays, there are literally hundreds if not thousands of ways to create and deploy a business application.”
Without COBOL, we may not be enjoying the apps we use on our smartphones – at least not to the degree we are able to (including the SANVADA app you’re reading this article on).
For decades, Hopper went around the country to visit schools and military bases, where she gave lectures on computers and the history of programming languages. She also spent quite a bit of time with Mark I, the first computer, to learn how to develop programs, an experience she shared with David Letterman in 1986.
Grace Hopper died in 1992 at the age of 85. In November 2016, President Barack Obama presented Hopper with a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Throughout her long life, she helped pave the way for modern technological advancements, but more importantly she created a legacy that can be admired and continued by women and girls all over the world.