Women and computing – International women day

March 8th is the International women’s day, so I feel this is the right time for another post on women in computing. This is not the first time I write about women in computing.

During my career as a manager of a software company, I hired many women and few years ago, I came to the conclusion that women are generally better then men in programming, this is a rather strange conclusion when looking at this industry that is unfortunately dominated  by men. I got to this conclusion after interviewing many men and women. Around 1997 most of my company was women, most of them programmers (and one administrative manager). At this time I talked with a colleague who was a manager of a software team in a big company in Israel (that was later acquired by Applied Materials). He said during this talk “You know women are better in this [programming]”. I felt the same, but could not explain why so I said innocently “Why is that?” I am surprised that he did not wonder about the innocence of my question since he knew that my team was mostly women :-) Anyway, he tried answering and said that he things women are more ordered in their thinking. I am not sure he is right though. I think it is because women are better at abstract thinking, but this is also not proven.

Today although my company has shifted to a new area (digital books) It is still mainly a software company, but now the software team is mainly men (one woman though).

Grace hopper near UNIVAC I (source - Wikipedia)

This is the time to talk about one remarkable woman that without her contribution the computer world would not look the same as it is today. This is Grace Murray Hopper (December 9, 1906 – January 1, 1992).

She was a computer scientist and United states navy rear admiral. She was part of the team that built the first digital computer (UNIVAC I). She invented the first compiler that she called A (so the first programming language was named A while today we use C and it’s descendants C++ and C#) A compiler is a program that translates programming language into machine language executable by a computer. She was the first to understand that a programming language does not have to be tied to a specific computer hardware and machine language. So in fact she was the first to understand that programming language is actually a human language and not a computer language.

She also termed the word bug to described a malfunction in computer program. The story says that it was termed after a real bug in the relays of UNIVAC I. But what Grace herself said later was that this was not the case (I never really believed it anyway) she said the term was used by a friend of hers who was a mechanic.

Grace Hopper was a woman that has contributed a lot to the computer world and without her, the computer world would not be as it is today. She deserves a honorable place just like Dennis Ritchie who invented the C programming language and the UNIX operating system.

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