October 3, 2017

There are many people responsible for the revolutionary development and commercialization of the modern-day computer.  Just a few of those names are given below.  Many of whom you probably have never heard of.  Let’s take a look.


  • Howard Aiken–Aiken was the original conceptual designer behind the Harvard Mark I computer in 1944.
  • Grace Murray Hopper–Hopper coined the term “debugging” in 1947 after removing an actual moth from a computer. Her ideas about machine-independent programming led to the development of COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages. On top of it all, the Navy destroyer USS Hopper is named after her.
  • Ken Thompson and David Ritchie–These guys invented Unix in 1969, the importance of which CANNOT be overstated. Consider this: your fancy Apple computer relies almost entirely on their work.
  • Doug and Gary Carlson–This team of brothers co-founded Brøderbund Software, a successful gaming company that operated from 1980-1999. In that time, they were responsible for churning out or marketing revolutionary computer games like Myst and Prince of Persia, helping bring computing into the mainstream.
  • Ken and Roberta Williams–This husband and wife team founded On-Line Systems in 1979, which later became Sierra Online. The company was a leader in producing graphical adventure games throughout the advent of personal computing.
  • Seymour Cray–Cray was a supercomputer architect whose computers were the fastest in the world for many decades. He set the standard for modern supercomputing.
  • Marvin Minsky–Minsky was a professor at MIT and oversaw the AI Lab, a hotspot of hacker activity, where he let prominent programmers like Richard Stallman run free. Were it not for his open-mindedness, programming skill, and ability to recognize that important things were taking place, the AI Lab wouldn’t be remembered as the talent incubator that it is.
  • Bob Albrecht–He founded the People’s Computer Company and developed a sincere passion for encouraging children to get involved with computing. He’s responsible for ushering in innumerable new young programmers and is one of the first modern technology evangelists.
  • Steve Dompier–At a time when computer speech was just barely being realized, Dompier made his computer sing. It was a trick he unveiled at the first meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club in 1975.
  • John McCarthy–McCarthy invented Lisp, the second-oldest high-level programming language that’s still in use to this day. He’s also responsible for bringing mathematical logic into the world of artificial intelligence — letting computers “think” by way of math.
  • Doug Engelbart–Engelbart is most noted for inventing the computer mouse in the mid-1960s, but he’s made numerous other contributions to the computing world. He created early GUIs and was even a member of the team that developed the now-ubiquitous hypertext.
  • Ivan Sutherland–Sutherland received the prestigious Turing Award in 1988 for inventing Sketchpad, the predecessor to the type of graphical user interfaces we use every day on our own computers.
  • Tim Paterson–He wrote QDOS, an operating system that he sold to Bill Gates in 1980. Gates rebranded it as MS-DOS, selling it to the point that it became the most widely-used operating system of the day. (How ‘bout them apples.?)
  • Dan Bricklin–He’s “The Father of the Spreadsheet. “Working in 1979 with Bob Frankston, he created VisiCalc, a predecessor to Microsoft Excel. It was the killer app of the time — people were buying computers just to run VisiCalc.
  • Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf–Prolific internet pioneers, these two teamed up to build the Transmission Control Protocol and the Internet Protocol, better known as TCP/IP. These are the fundamental communication technologies at the heart of the Internet.
  • Nicklus Wirth–Wirth designed several programming languages, but is best known for creating Pascal. He won a Turing Award in 1984 for “developing a sequence of innovative computer languages.”


At this point, I want to highlight Admiral Grace Murray Hopper or “amazing Grace” as she is called in the computer world and the United States Navy.  Admiral Hopper’s picture is shown below.

Born in New York City in 1906, Grace Hopper joined the U.S. Navy during World War II and was assigned to program the Mark I computer. She continued to work in computing after the war, leading the team that created the first computer language compiler, which led to the popular COBOL language. She resumed active naval service at the age of 60, becoming a rear admiral before retiring in 1986. Hopper died in Virginia in 1992.

Born Grace Brewster Murray in New York City on December 9, 1906, Grace Hopper studied math and physics at Vassar College. After graduating from Vassar in 1928, she proceeded to Yale University, where, in 1930, she received a master’s degree in mathematics. That same year, she married Vincent Foster Hopper, becoming Grace Hopper (a name that she kept even after the couple’s 1945 divorce). Starting in 1931, Hopper began teaching at Vassar while also continuing to study at Yale, where she earned a Ph.D. in mathematics in 1934—becoming one of the first few women to earn such a degree.

After the war, Hopper remained with the Navy as a reserve officer. As a research fellow at Harvard, she worked with the Mark II and Mark III computers. She was at Harvard when a moth was found to have shorted out the Mark II, and is sometimes given credit for the invention of the term “computer bug”—though she didn’t actually author the term, she did help popularize it.

Hopper retired from the Naval Reserve in 1966, but her pioneering computer work meant that she was recalled to active duty—at the age of 60—to tackle standardizing communication between different computer languages. She would remain with the Navy for 19 years. When she retired in 1986, at age 79, she was a rear admiral as well as the oldest serving officer in the service.

Saying that she would be “bored stiff” if she stopped working entirely, Hopper took another job post-retirement and stayed in the computer industry for several more years. She was awarded the National Medal of Technology in 1991—becoming the first female individual recipient of the honor. At the age of 85, she died in Arlington, Virginia, on January 1, 1992. She was laid to rest in the Arlington National Cemetery.


In 1997, the guided missile destroyer, USS Hopper, was commissioned by the Navy in San Francisco. In 2004, the University of Missouri has honored Hopper with a computer museum on their campus, dubbed “Grace’s Place.” On display are early computers and computer components to educator visitors on the evolution of the technology. In addition to her programming accomplishments, Hopper’s legacy includes encouraging young people to learn how to program. The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference is a technical conference that encourages women to become part of the world of computing, while the Association for Computing Machinery offers a Grace Murray Hopper Award. Additionally, on her birthday in 2013, Hopper was remembered with a “Google Doodle.”

In 2016, Hopper was posthumously honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama.

Who said women could not “do” STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)?

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