Out for a beer last weekend, I met Melissa, a friendly, petite young woman with sparkling brown eyes and a ready smile. She didn’t fit the picture in my mind of a structural engineer. Shame on me.
For the past ten years, many a construction worker has made the same judgment, but Melissa has persevered in her career. She does not let others define her talents. She is forging her own path. That takes courage.
She put me in mind of Grace Murray Hopper, A woman I only recently learned about, to whom I owe a great deal. You do, too.
Grace Hopper was a pioneer computer scientist born in 1906. She invented the first compiler in 1952. The revolutionary software became the foundation for the first computer languages. Which led directly to me having this amazing machine which allows me to type this newsletter and send it to you. No wonder they called her Amazing Grace.
To me programming is more than an important practical art. It is also a gigantic undertaking in the foundations of knowledge. ~Grace Hopper
At age seven, Grace took apart every alarm clock in the house. Her mother encouraged her curiosity, but restricted her tinkering to one clock at a time.
Grace's mother was also an unconventional woman, find a way to study geometry in an era when it was considered improper for females. Grace's father insisted his two daughters have the same education and opportunities as his son. He showed Grace by example, she could succeed against great odds, not letting the fact he was a double amputee stop him from living a full live and running a successful business.
Grace studied mathematics and physics at Vassar, then became one of the few women in the 1930s to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics at Yale, where she then taught until World War II. In 1943, Grace joined the U.S. Navy. Nearly all women in the navy were relegated to nursing or lesser duties. Grace was assigned to the
programming staff for the new Mark I computer at Harvard.
Grace was a positive thinker, not afraid to take risks or look foolish. Tireless in seeking solutions, she did not know the word impossible. In the male-dominated world of computer science, people thought her eccentric and outspoken. Her peers ridiculed her for believing that computers could be made to speak English. Grace proved them wrong.
Humans are allergic to change. They love to say, “We’ve always done it this way.” I try to fight that. That’s why I have a clock on my wall that runs counter-clockwise. ~Grace Hopper
The Data Processing Management Association named Grace the first Computer Science Man of the Year in 1969. She elevated computers from a “yes/no, or 1s and 0s operation to an if/then method.
The compiler her team invented was ground-breaking because it relieved programmers from writing long, repetitive, time-consuming and error-ridden code. It enabled computers to retrieve lengths of common code from its memory.
Grace had a long career in the Navy and Naval Reserve, one of the few women to achieve the rank of Rear Admiral. When she retired in 1986, at age 79, she was the oldest serving officer in the Navy.
Grace says, after the compiler, the most important thing she did was work with young people. She encouraged them to keep taking chances.
That one think I'm going to try and remember from this story. Take a chance, I'll never know what I can do, unless I give it try. What about you? How does Amazing Grace Hopper inspire you?
I'm fascinated to discover little-known stories from history. Stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
I also post here about my books and feature other authors and their books on compelling and important historical topics.
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