My social media feeds lately are mostly overwhelmed by bad news or negative opinions but I was overjoyed to see the news that Yale University is renaming one of their undergraduate residential colleges after Commodore Grace Murray Hopper, who received her masters and doctorate from Yale in 1928 and 1930, respectively. The university didn’t choose her simply because she was one of the first women to earn a degree in mathematics. If you are reading this on a computer, you can thank Commodore Hopper.
She didn’t invent the computer by herself but she did work on the first computers, Mark I and Mark II. She also developed the first compiler and the most popularly used programming language, COBOL, each based on her belief that computer programs should be written as close to English as possible rather than super dense code. She also was the first to start using the term “debugging” which actually refers to an incident where she found a moth that was clogging the computer she was using. I’m not doing the moth story any justice. I always ruin jokes.
She was buried in the Arlington National Cemetery and was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Obama. Google even featured her on their Doodle to celebrate her birthday in 2013. She also had a Navy Destroyer named after her. I’ve always wanted a boat named after me.
Not only was Commodore Hopper an incredible brain, she was also witty and clever with words. In fact, she is responsible for one of my most oft-repeated phrases – “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness, than to ask for permission.” Another of my favorite quotes from her – “Humans are allergic to change. They love to say, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’ I try to fight that.” See what I mean? Wicked clever.
Here’s her story in a nutshell (or a comic, call it what you will).
On a related side note, General Electric just created my new favorite commercial about the delightful idea of treating scientists like celebrities. A number of my friends have named their kids after famous women so this doesn’t seem like too much of a leap for me. After all, we already do it with Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye.
* In case you didn’t quite get it, this blog post title references War Games, an amazing 80s movie starring Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy. I don’t normally like remakes but I would love to see a new version starring a girl hacker.