Google Doodle honors pioneer programmer Grace Hopper

The developer of COBOL, which allowed computers to handle words instead of just numbers, would have been 107 years old on Monday.

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

The latest Google Doodle celebrates the birthday of a woman who helped make computer programming more user friendly.

The late Grace Hopper is credited with several achievements that marked the computer era. As a naval officer during World War II, she was one of the first programmers to tap into Harvard's Mark I computer. After the war, she worked on the UNIVAC, one of the first commercial computers.

But "Grandma COBOL" may best be known for her role in creating the Common Business Oriented Language, which allowed computers to handle words instead of just numbers, creating a revolution in programming.

Hopper also became famous among computer aficionados for the phrase "computer bug." Though the term had already been in use to describe technical glitches, the discovery of a moth in a computer by a member of Hopper's team triggered a surge in its popularity.

In 1983, the then 76-year-old Hopper spoke with 60 Minutes' Morley Safer about her long career. She also made an appearance on the David Letterman show. Hopper died on January 1, 1992 at the age of 85 and was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Correction, 9:14 a.m. PT: This story initially misstated the year of the "60 Minutes" interview. It was 1983.

About the author

Journalist, software trainer, and Web developer Lance Whitney writes columns and reviews for CNET, Computer Shopper, Microsoft TechNet, and other technology sites. His first book, "Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time," was published by Wiley & Sons in November 2012.

 

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