Dr. Grace Murray Hopper - UX Pioneer

Perhaps, if you are an inquisitive geek or fond of history, you have heard of Dr. Grace Murray Hopper. I think I may have heard the name in passing at one time or another, but the name didn't mean much to me until the other day when I read a section in this book to my daughter:

Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women

Wherein I realized that Grace Hopper is the most awesome role model ever for a woman following her dreams in the user experience field.

Reading WikipediaFamous Women Inventors, and The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing you'll see that Grace was full of energy and spirit and had a great tenacity--she didn't retire (involuntarily) from the Navy until she was over 79.5 years old! And even then she didn't really retire, she just moved on to be a senior consultant to Digital Equipment Corporation.

But that's not the amazing part. The amazing part is how much and what she did with all those years of service.

Grace Hopper became the third programmer on the very early computer, the Harvard Mark I, and then became senior programmer on the first large-scale commercial computer, the UNIVAC.

This was when programmers had to enter every program individually into the computer as a string of 0s and 1s called machine code. It was very time-consuming and if only one 0 got switched to a 1 (or visa versa) the program wouldn't run.

She believed there was a better way. A way to let you save and run repeatable commands. Her supervisors didn't believe it was possible but she persisted and developed the first compiler--a program that could turn mathematical code into machine code.

'No one thought of that earlier because they weren't as lazy as I was,' Grace said. 'A lot of our programmers liked to play with the bits. I wanted to get jobs done. That's what the computer was there for.'" - from Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women

Then Grace went a step further creating a compiler that could take English instructions, in the syntax of the FLOWMATIC programming language, and turn it into machine code.

In 1952 [Grace] had an operational compiler. 'Nobody believed that,' she said. 'I had a running compiler and nobody would touch it. They told me computers could only do arithmetic.'" - from Wikipedia

But Grace wasn't done yet. As different companies began to develop different computer programming languages she saw the need for standardization and "lead the team that invented COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language), the first user-friendly business computer software program." (Source: Famous Women Inventors)

She continued her groundbreaking work for many years, coming out of retirement multiple times and even remaining "on active duty for several years beyond mandatory retirement by special approval of Congress." (Source: Wikipedia) Think about that for a moment--how awesome and necessary must she have been to get Congress to agree on keeping her past retirement age. Wow.

After finally retiring from the Navy, for real this time, she became a senior consultant to Digital Equipment Corporation. There her primarily role included lecturing widely on "the early days of computers, her career, and on efforts that computer vendors could take to make life easier for their users." (Source: Wikipedia)

Dr. Grace Murray Hopper had a passion to make computers easier to use and that passion sparked a movement that continues today as UX.

Think of Grace and go forth and make the world a better place!