For Ada Lovelace Day:
Anecdote: Suitland, Maryland, 1983. I am in the US Navy, a Cryptology Technician (O) 3rd Class, coming off watch from the basements that are the bowels of US Navy Intelligence.
I meet in the hall my commanding officer, a Navy captain, and the director of Naval Intelligence, a commodore.
And they are bending over, like storks, to hear the every word of a fast-talking, septuagenarian lady in a captain’s uniform.
As I pass, murmuring “good morning ma’am, good morning sirs,” she looks up, smiles, and says “good morning! How are you, sailor?” And then actually stops to await an answer. Which I have to provide, to the chagrin of the commodore, my captain and me.
Anecdote: September 9, 1945. Confronted with a failed computer – the world’s largest – the team sets out to find the problem. They found it deep in the insides of what was pretty much the world’s only supercomputer. They fixed it. A Lieutenant (junior grade) of the US Navy logged it:
“Relay 70 Panel F (moth) in relay.”
Laconic, as bug reports go, but it was the first “bug” report – until then, bugs had not been a problem. Asked why it had taken so long to get the computer started, the lieutenant replied, “We had to debug it first.
She graduated Vassar, 1928, in mathematics; Yale, 1934, Ph.D. in mathematics.
She was the “mother of COBOL.”
Perhaps her best-known contribution to computing was the invention of the compiler, the intermediate program that translates English language instructions into the language of the target computer. She did this, she said, because she was lazy and hoped that “the programmer may return to being a mathematician.” Her work embodied or foreshadowed enormous numbers of developments that are now the bones of digital computing: subroutines, formula translation, relative addressing, the linking loader, code optimization, and even symbolic manipulation of the kind embodied in Mathematica and Maple.
She was a cold warrior… she had every faith that our (US, NATO) computing power would ensure our victory over the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. She foresaw that computing strength was a force multiplier.