Grace Hopper

This is a story I had placed on Facebook about a year or so ago, but I want to retell it with a point in mind to act as an introduction to my next article.

I grew up in Virginia (in the USA) near the city of Richmond. Now I was not in the city itself, but about 35 miles away from it in “King William” county. It was a small country school. Now the area is probably about a 2.5 hours away from Washington, DC.

One day while I was in high school, me and my fellow students were called into the auditorium/cafeteria for a special event. Being High school students how were looking for any chance to get out of class and not work was always a special event for us.

Once everyone got settled in, a little old lady dressed up in a navy military uniform came into the room. Now when I say little, she might have been 5 ½ foot tall at the most and small. She had a case that was already sitting on a middle table, she walked up to the case and opened it, showing some gadgets inside. She walked up to the mic and introduced herself.

“Hello everyone, I’m Grace Hopper.”

For those not in the know of exactly who Grace Hopper is, go visit her entry on Wikipedia (Grace Hopper).

She gave us high school students (most whom were goofing off at the time) a good hour-long lecture on a long laundry list of computer subjects.

Now, at the time, I didn’t know who Grace Hopper was, but I was amazed that she knew so much for a little old lady. She talked about how computers used to fill an entire room and how the microprocessor changed everything. She demonstrated what a nanosecond was by showing us all a foot long piece of cable. This was the distance light could travel in a nanosecond. She stated that the shorter the distance, the faster data could travel. She talked about how computers used to be analog with relays clicking constantly and how hot computer rooms could get if not air-conditioned. She got excited talking about the invention of the transistor and finally the microprocessor. How microprocessors were filled with transistors.

She talked about software and compilers and how she was involved with COBOL.

She described how the term bootstrap a generic term of improving yourself, started to be applied to computers and got shorted to booting the computer.

Finally, she talked about the first computer bug. An actual moth caught in a relay (First computer bug) and when they removed the moth from the relay it was the first case of debugging the computer.

I didn’t realize until years later the significance of Grace Hopper. Yes, she was a Rear Admiral in the Navy but the contributions she made to the advancement of computers.

Grace Hopper invented the first program compiler back in 1952.
Without the compiler, computers would only be programmed in raw assembly. Windows and most operating systems are programmed in a higher level of code, so without the compiler who knows if the modern operating system would exist.
She helped develop COBOL and advocated for standardization of the programming language. Most of the large business software of the 1960’s to the 1980’s were written in COBOL. It’s still being used today.

These are some of the larger contributions she made to computer science. I remember just seeing this little old lady in a navy uniform trying to talk to a group of high school students none of which knew of her significance and contributions in life. I just wish I had an intelligent question for her at the time.

That’s my story of attending the lecture of Grace Hopper.

This, of course, is not only a nice little story I wanted to pass on but as an introduction to my next subject, debugging.


Author: andydansby

I'm a hobbyist coder working with the ZX Spectrum. Living in New York state near the Syracuse area. I grew up in Virgina. The first computer my parents bought for me was a Timex Sinclair 2068.

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