Celebrating Grace Hopper on Bug Day 2019

Phoebe Wang
Source: Encyclopedia Britannica

On September 9, 1947, Lieutenant Grace Hopper was working on the Harvard Mark II, one of the first programmable computers ever built. Suddenly, the system stopped working. When the Mark II was investigated to determine what went wrong, a moth was discovered, stuck between relay contacts inside the computer. Grace Hopper took the offending moth and documented it in her logbook, thus creating the first recorded instance of “debugging” in computer engineering.

While renowned for this encounter with an actual computer bug, Grace Hopper should be remembered first and foremost as a pioneering woman in the fields of mathematics and computer science. 

At a time when women didn’t often earn higher degrees, Hopper received her Master’s and PhD in mathematics from Yale and went on to become a mathematics professor. When the U.S. entered World War II, Hopper wanted to enlist and serve her country, but the Navy recognized that her expertise could be better used off the battlefield. They assigned her to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project as a lieutenant where she worked on the Harvard Mark I, an electromechanical computer used in the war effort.  

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica

After the war, Hopper championed the use of English symbols to develop computer programming languages. Her idea received instant criticism, and her peers rejected the idea for years, until Hopper published a paper on how she developed a compiler that translates English code into machine code computers can understand. 

These are only a few examples of how Rear Admiral Grace Hopper became a symbol of innovation, perseverance, and genius and why she’s remembered today for her creativity and courage. Not only did Hopper make a tremendous impact with her technological advancements, but she did so at a time when women were not welcome in these disciplines. Hopper is a hero for entering and mastering the fields of mathematics and computer science, two areas where women still struggle today to gain respect and mentorship.

We invite you to share the story of Grace Hopper and show your support for women in STEM and for those who push the boundaries of innovation in technology.

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