My Tech Hero: Admiral Grace Hopper

  revature |

by April Garvey

Welcome to another edition of #MyTechHero, the series where we ask Revature staff, associates, and alums to name a leader in the tech world they find inspiring. Next up is our Senior Vice President of Marketing, April Garvey. In honor of Women’s History Month, April has chosen a visionary computing pioneer, Admiral Grace Hopper.

One day in 1947, Dr. Grace Hopper was working in her lab at Harvard when the computer she was testing broke down. Taking the machine apart, she discovered the cause: a dead moth stuck in the mechanism. A colleague taped the creature to the log page for September 9th with a handwritten caption: “First actual case of bug being found.” The name stuck!

This was far from the only “first” Grace Hopper could lay claim to. She played a pivotal role in creating the discipline we know today as computer coding. She was the first woman to win the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. And as if that were not enough, she was also one of the first women to attain the rank of rear admiral in the United States Navy.

March is Women’s History Month, and today is International Women’s Day. What better time to celebrate a woman who left such an indelible legacy?

Hopper, a Yale mathematics PhD, joined the Naval Reserve after Pearl Harbor and got herself assigned to a secret lab performing complex calculations for the military. Denied a commission in the regular Navy because of her age (in 1945 she was 39 years old) and refused tenure at Harvard because of her sex, Hopper persevered, continuing her work under the auspices of a Philadelphia-based computer company that is now part of the tech giant Unisys.

We should all be thankful that she did, because it was here that she made a series of breakthroughs that would seal her place in history. She revolutionized coding by creating the first compiler, a piece of software for translating programmers’ commands into binary—the ones and zeroes understood by machines. She opened up the discipline to non-mathematicians by inventing the first programming language to use words instead of mathematical symbols. Her work soon morphed into COBOL, the first programming language designed for use in a business setting. The world would never be the same again.

Hopper remained an educator throughout her long career, lecturing and running workshops at UPenn, GW, and elsewhere. Just a year before she died, in her 1991 acceptance speech for the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, Hopper said that her proudest accomplishment was not her work during World War II, nor her transformative role in computing, but “all the young people I’ve trained over the years.”

At Revature, we heartily agree; after all, we are in the business of training the next generation of technology talent, and we are passionate about offering everyone an equal chance at a career in technology. And who knows? Maybe one of our alumni will turn out to be the next Grace Hopper!

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