Google Doodle Honors Grace Hopper, Early Computer Scientist

Kicks off Computer Science Education Week with tribute to woman who taught computers to use words

  • Share
  • Read Later

Today’s Google Doodle celebrates what would have been the 107th birthday of computer pioneer Grace Hopper (1906-1992) just in time for the “Hour of Code” kicking off Computer Science Education Week.

Hopper created COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language,) the program that allows computer to communicate through language as well as numbers. She joined the Navy Reserve in 1943, when she was teaching mathematics at Vassar, and finally reached the rank of rear admiral in 1985. Hopper, who repeatedly un-retired, became the oldest woman in the armed forces at the age of 76.

Hopper is credited with coining the term “bug in the system” because of the time she actually found a bug in a computer. As TIME described it in 1984:

She gets credit for coining the name of a ubiquitous computer phenomenon: the bug. In August 1945, while she and some associates were working at Harvard on an experimental machine called the Mark I, a circuit malfunctioned. A researcher using tweezers located and removed the problem: a 2-in. long moth. Hopper taped the offending insect into her logbook. Says she: “From then on, when anything went wrong with a computer, we said it had bugs in it.”

(The moth is still under tape along with records of the experiment at the U.S. Naval Surface Weapons Center in Dahlgren, Va.)

She was also famous for her incredible work ethic and unique way of interpreting time. When teaching her students about nanoseconds, she would show them a length of wire that represented the distance electricity could travel in a nanosecond:

In her commencement speech to the Trinity College class of 1987, which was excerpted in TIME, she said:

There’s always been change, there always will be change . . . It’s to our young people that I look for the new ideas. No computer is ever going to ask a new, reasonable question. It takes trained people to do that. And if we’re going to move toward those things we’d like to have, we must have the young people to ask the new, reasonable questions. A ship in port is safe; but that is not what ships are built for. And I want every one of you to be good ships and sail out and do the new things and move us toward the future.

MORE: (Learn about Google’s plans to radically extend the human lifespan)

 

69 comments
pbug56
pbug56

Amazing Grace was the father/mother of so much of modern business and other computing.  That she also busted through the glass ceiling in the navy to achieve 2 star rank as a Rear Admiral is both amazing and right!

dkadams8
dkadams8

I first met Grace Hopper on my first day with UNIVAC in early 1962, in the offices at 17th & Walnut in Philadelphia.  I was given one of the sea of desks on the 2nd floor(no cubicles then), and was promptly introduced to an elegant older lady a few desks away, who was clearly in charge- in a mother-hen fashion- of about a dozen men and women at their desks, heads-down working on what was surely computer code, which I believe was something about early database management.  Following the introduction, I was politely ignored.  The next time I met her was in the UNIVAC center in Rome, about 1970- she showed up very correct in her Navy uniform, and promptly sat down to lecture a few of us systems folk.  Soon from her purse came a little bundle of very thin wires, and we got the marvelous nanosecond story.  I keep looking for my wire these days, but it was easy to waylay...

One of my favorite Grace stories was her reaction when a subordinate would come into her office with something to say, and made the mistake of using the "y'now" filler.  Grace would point to a jar on her desk.  The subordinate was obliged to produce a coin and clink it into the jar.  Discipline in language, be it computer or conversation, defined this very special lady.  DK Adams          

GregRivera
GregRivera

I think Google knows about the "bug" in the calculation. After 107 is displayed a "real bug" flies out of the machine.

BillMauchly
BillMauchly

Grace was a bit of tart in her early days, according to the new autobiography of another woman software engineer who worked alongside her at Eckert-Mauchly,  Jean Jennings Bartik.  

wintermotog
wintermotog

I'm surprised no one has called Google on their bad logic.  You can't just take current year minus birth year and come up with your age.  If you haven't had your birthday yet in the current year, the result is wrong.

Also it's better COBOL practice to use the COMPUTE AGE = CURRENTYEAR - BIRTHYEAR syntax rather than using the SUBTRACT x FROM y GIVING z syntax.

saratsarat7
saratsarat7

More intresting news efyo.weebly.com/windows.html

DonZimmer
DonZimmer

I had the distinct honor to have saluted Admiral Hopper (then a Navy captain) as she got out of an Army sedan and entered the officers club at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana in the spring of 1980.  I was standing outside of the club when the sedan pulled up to the entrance.  The vehicle driver, a young soldier, came around to the right rear door, opened it, and out came this sprightly elderly woman in a Navy uniform, with the silver eagles of a Navy captain on her shoulders.  I immediately snapped to attention and rendered a hand salute which she crisply returned.  She entered the club and I stood there with an apparent look of surprise on my face.  The young soldier driver looked at me and said, "She's some kind of computer genius."  Later I found out that the "computer genius" was Grace Hopper who was on base for what purpose I know not.  At that time, the base was home of the Army's finance center so, perhaps, she was working on or advising the Army about its computer system there.  I shall never forget my stroke of good luck in being so close to such a brilliant computer pioneer and being able to honor her with a salute.  A brush with history.

dserlin13
dserlin13

You can easily find on You Tube a fabulous clip of her interview on the David Letterman show shortly after she retired.  She is still sharp as a tack, good sense of timing, and again using teaching aids to show Dave things about time and space.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-vcErOPofQ

Lillian4444
Lillian4444

Thank you for sharing this great video about Grace Hopper. I hadn't heard of her before and I enjoyed her teaching style immensely! 

jabberwolf
jabberwolf

Funny, Time doesn't do a damned thing about Google ignoring Pearl harbor anniversary. But honors Hopper (who I admire) who was proudly in the USA marine reserves for WW2.

UmAh
UmAh

@jabberwolf Time didn't do a damned thing about Google ignoring The Spanish-American War.


REMEMBER THE MAINE!!!

favpapa
favpapa

@jabberwolf Honestly, to make a doodle for Pearl Harbor Day would in my opinion diminsh the date.  A doodle is a cartoon....Pearl Harbor was a tragedy.

jimgawn
jimgawn

I was one of the recipients of then-Commodore Hopper's lengths of wire.  But that length was calculated, I believe, from the speed of light in a vacuum, which is the speed limit for everything.  This serves as a rule-of-thumb upper bound for the speed of propagation of electrical signals in copper wire, or for the speed of light in glass fiber.  But both of these are somewhat slower than the speed of light in a vacuum.  That said, however, Hopper was illustrating the trade-off between size and speed in computing equipment, and the limits that each placed on the other.  As such, the 0.3 meter (~1 foot)  piece of wire was a very effective teaching aid.

DonDeyne
DonDeyne

@jimgawn When I got mine in circa 84 she explained it as the length electricity (in memory but it could have been light) travels in a nanosecond.  While the details of what was traveling is fuzzy the NANOSECOND part was the real point.  My favorite from her was "it's easier to get forgiveness than permission".  Not sure she coined it but it was the first time I'd heard it.  Salute Commodore (her rank when she entered my conciseness) Grace from a crusty retired AF MSgt.


mmhkyp
mmhkyp

If she "reached the rank of rear admiral in 1985," wouldn't that have made here the oldest woman in the armed forces at the age of 79 - not 76?.

gwarden
gwarden

@mmhkyp They are just talking about when she re-entered the service there, not when she made rear admiral.

RichMaringer
RichMaringer

@Raul Soto - Not "was".  It "IS" used to code business programs.  There are many businesses including Fortune 500 companies that still use COBOL.  There are too many systems out there written in COBOL to just simply rewrite the code into a different language.  It is common now to write programs in a modern language to interface with your legacy programs such as COBOL.

R_in_ROLM
R_in_ROLM

 When ROLM Corp introduced it's first product, a MIl-Sped Computer at the FJCC in Las Vegas in 1969, she appeared at our booth and asked the most direct, observant and interesting questions for 20 minutes.  I was not familiar with WAVE uniforms and thought she was a "Salvation Army" lady who knew a lot about computers.......little did I know.

lswiger
lswiger

@R_in_ROLM

worked on ROLM 1603 when I saw my first training film of Adm. Grace still remember that nanosecond!