Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Close Encounters with Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

"I met Admiral Hopper, at Penn, but have lost my nanosecond."

The nanosecond referred to was one of the 30 cm pieces of wire that Grace Hopper famously handed out at speaking engagements. And this rueful admission by David Klappholz was part of an unexpected harvest reaped since launching the Facebook page for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing: Fans of the page immediately starting posting stories of their personal encounters with her.

It began when one of the page's new fans posted a variation on a famous quote from Adm. Hopper: "It's easier to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission." The quote prompted Joan Deaderick to recall, "I actually heard Adm. Hopper speak at a DEC (Digital Equipment Co) symposium in the '80's. She told some wonderful stories including the quote ... mentioned."

Esther Massimini, a Principal Engineer at Honeywell, shared her own story. "Back in the early 80s, I was stationed at the Pentagon (in the USAF). I often found myself right behind Adm. Hopper in line for the credit union! Occasionally also found myself with her in an elevator in the DC area." It's notable that Adm. Hopper was so well-known that Esther still remembers these brushes with greatness.

Ann Finnie drew a flurry of responses to her story: "My dad was in the Air Force and he worked with Admiral Hopper in Philadelphia in the early 50s. They had the Univac 1, serial number 1 and my dad was learning how to use it so he could train the AF on how to use s/n 2. He wrote the first compiler for the electronic computer on the Univac 1 in Admiral Hopper's lab. She helped him get a job at Lawrence Livermore Labs when he moved to California. I never met her, but I wish I could thank her." Ann later told me that the Univac 1 with serial number 1 is now on display in the Smithsonian American History Museum in Washington, DC. After Ann's father died, she found in his office both documentation of his compiler and the original operating manual for the Univac 1. She and her mother brought these to the curator in DC and donated them to the Smithsonian.

Alfred Thompson of Microsoft reported that "I met her first in college. A bunch of us students had lunch with her. One of the students asked her why she joined the Navy. She blinked a couple of times and said 'There was a war on.' That was it - the whole story. I never forgot that. She had a sense of duty." This same sense of duty led Adm. Hopper to return to service in the Navy after retirement -- not once, but twice.

Sue Allen shared, "I was a Computer Science Major at Brigham Young University in about 1970 when I first heard Commander Hopper speak. She told us that the time would come when we'd work on small desktop computers and share storage. This was in the days of big mainframes and punch cards. We all thought she was a little crazy!"

"I have always admired this woman. What a gift she was to all women in math and engineering disciplines. WAY ahead of her time," posted Pat McGowan. And of course when Dr. Anita Borg and Dr. Telle Whitney co-founded the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women In Computing conference to bring the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront, they were inspired by the legacy of Adm. Hopper.

Many thanks to Sue, Pat, Ann, Alfred, Esther, David and Joan for their permission to share their recollections outside Facebook. To see more of these posts, become a fan of the Grace Hopper Celebration page on Facebook.

Do you have a personal story about an encounter with Adm. Grace Murray Hopper? Please share it here or on the Facebook page. My hope is that there will be enough stories for a follow-up blog post.

Note: This was also cross-posted on the Anita Borg Institute blog.

No comments:

GHC Bloggers Latest Updates