During the coming weeks Minnesotans will be hearing the name “Grace Hopper” with unaccustomed frequency. The reason – The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is meeting at the Minneapolis Convention Center October 2-5.
The Grace Hopper Celebration is the world’s largest gathering of technical women in computing. It is the venue in which technical women gather to network, find or be mentors, create collaborative proposals, and increase the visibility of women’s contributions to computing. The Celebration was co-founded by Dr. Anita Borg and Dr. Telle Whitney in 1994.
Though the namesake of the conference may be legend to participants, it behooves the rest of us to brush up on our knowledge of stellar women in computing.
Grace Murray Hopper (1906-1992) was a pioneering computer scientist and Rear Admiral in the United States Navy. She joined the Navy Reserve during World War II and worked as one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark 1 computer. In 1952 she wrote the first computer programming compiler and later worked on development of the business language COBOL Hopper’s work played an enormous role in creation of the basic structures that still undergird digital computing.
Throughout her life Hopper multi-tasked in multi-settings. She went back and forth among institutions in the military, private industry, business and academia. She was regarded in each setting as a strategic futurist in the rapidly advancing computer environment. Hopper is probably best known for her work on making computers understand ordinary language, the root of her work with COBOL She worked on a practical language, she said, because she was “lazy” and hoped that “the programmer may return to being a mathematician.”
Upon her retirement Harper was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the highest non-combat award given by the Department of Defense.
Howard Bromberg, another computer pioneer, described Hopper as a “mathematician, computer scientist, social scientist, corporate politician, marketing whiz, systems designer and programmer – and visionary.”
Keynote speaker for the Celebration is Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, author of the blockbuster book Lean Forward: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.
Traditionally the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing has commissioned a poster to commemorate the conference. The posters have focused on depicting a mix of technical women gathering at the site of that year’s conference. This year planners chose Ecuadorean graphic artist Jose Ortega to create a striking poster that builds on the Celebration’s theme “Think Big, Drive Forward.”