One of the first female computer programers made contributions that continue to impact our daily lives. Theresa O'Neil (SVP of Marketing, PowerReviews) For the first time since Martha Washington graced the $1 silver certificate more than a century ago, a woman is set to appear on our paper currency. With a little help from the public, the U.S. Treasury Department will decide which woman will replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill. And while many amazing women — such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks — are sure to be considered, I’d argue that none have influenced our daily lives more than Grace Hopper. Grace Hopper was a true trailblazer and played a fundamental role in revolutionizing the computer science industry. Without her, you would not be using a computer to read this post — and yet, my guess is that many have probably never heard of her. At least not yet. Even if you recognize the name Grace Hopper, she was more instrumental than you may realize. Just a couple weeks before the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing, today we dive into how her contributions revolutionized computing forever.
Rising Above the Norms
As a rear admiral in the United States Navy, Grace Hopper programmed computers during World War II. Often the size of entire rooms, these bulky machines were nothing like the sleek, portable computers we use today. In fact, most computers of that time were limited to solving mathematical equations. But Grace knew that computers could be capable of so much more.To make her vision a reality, there needed a way to give more complex directions to computers. They needed a language. So by 1952, Grace invented the compiler, a program that takes a more abstract language (think Java, C# or Ruby) and translates it to machine code – those ones and zeros the computer understands. The compiler enabled people to use a language to express their ideas and ultimately write more advanced software, which means that Grace not only invented computer programming — she revolutionized computer science forever.
Ask for Forgiveness, Not Permission
Now that you know what Grace did, you should know who Grace was. Grace believed in having a vision and going after it. You’ve likely heard a version of her famous quote: “It’s much easier to apologize than it is to get permission.” No one invented anything great by asking for permission – and Grace is proof. Throughout her career, Grace continued to push the boundaries – especially for what was possible for women during her time. She became the director of automatic programming for a computer design company in 1954, a time when women did not typically hold positions of power. Between spurts of retirement – per Navy’s mandatory retirement age, Grace was recalled to active duty to continue her work several times. Finally in the 1980’s, she was promoted to Commodore by a special presidential appointment and indefinitely remained on active duty by a special approval from Congress.
Empowering a New Generation of Women
As a woman whose entire career has been in software, I’m extremely proud of women like Ginni Rometty leading IBM – but the simple truth is we need more women in STEM. While women make up 47 percent of the total U.S. workforce today, they are underrepresented in engineering (13 percent) and computer and mathematical sciences (25 percent), according to the National Science Foundation. And according to recent reports, the percentage of female computer science majors has fallen from its height of about 40 percent in the 1980’s to about 17 percent now. Young women need to know that the world of computer programming was started by women. And my hope is that by putting Grace Hopper on the $10 bill, she will become an inspiration to young women everywhere to go after your vision and serve as a reminder that programming is a woman’s world.
About the guest blogger: Theresa O’Neil is the SVP of Marketing at PowerReviews,, the choice of more than 1,000 global brands and retailers to collect and display ratings and reviews. With more than 20 years of experience developing marketing, sales and business development strategies, she is responsible for building and leading her team in the execution of programs that grow revenue and increase profitability.