People in Computing #7: Women in Hardware and Programming Languages

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March 22, 2021
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omen have long and always been pivotal in the history of technology. In the early days of Computer Science, Ada Lovelace and the Woman of the ENIAC built up the field of programming languages and compilers - in the realms of theoretical mathematics, and practical hardware devices.

In this week's Select, we will celebrate women who made fundamental contributions to programming languages and compilers, as well as computer hardware.

We invite you to consider participating in ACM’s activities on these topics, be it through our professional community,​ global policy​ activities​, ongoing work in ​professional ethics​, and/or through our ​chapters, ​SIGs​, ​local meetups and/or ​conferences​

If you are interested in learning more about women in computing or are keen to participate in our activities, we highly encourage you to check out your ACM-W, which supports, celebrates and advocates for women in computing. We also invite you to join a local ACM-W professional chapter and/or participate in the "Celebrating Technology Leaders" series, ACM-W's webinar sessions highlighting successful women leading a diverse range of careers in computing.

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Programming Languages and Compilers

Frances Elisabeth Allen

Why her? She is the recipient of  ACM turing award - 2006 for pioneering contributions to the theory and practice of optimizing compiler techniques that laid the foundation for modern optimizing compilers and automatic parallel execution. Allen was named an IBM Fellow in 1989, an IEEE Fellow in 1991, and an ACM Fellow in 1994

Allen and her team designed a single compiler framework to handle three very different programming languages: FORTRAN, Autocoder (a business language similar to COBOL), and the new language Alpha (designed for rapidly detecting patterns in arbitrary text represented in any alphabet). The three language compilers shared a common optimizing back end that could produce code for both the Stretch supercomputer and its Harvest coprocessor. 

Allen worked on the Parallel Translator (PTRAN), a system for compiling Fortran programs not specially written with parallelism in mind for execution on parallel computer architectures. For this effort she consulted with David Kuck (later an ACM Fellow) at the University of Illinois, who worked for many years on parallelizing compilers. She eventually hired some of Kuck’s students, including Ron Cytron (later an ACM Fellow). She applied her extensive experience with interprocedural flow analysis to produce new algorithms for extracting parallelism from sequential code. PTRAN introduced the concept of the program dependence graph, a representation now used by many parallelizing compilers.


Heidelburg Laureate Forum: Frances Elisabeth Allen

ACM Turing Award: Frances Elisabeth Allen

Wikipedia: Frances Allen

Grace Brewster Murray Hopper 

Why her? American mathematician and rear admiral in the U.S. Navy who was a pioneer in developing computer technology, helping to devise UNIVAC I, the first commercial electronic computer, and naval applications for COBOL (common-business-oriented language).  

She wrote the first computer manual, A Manual of Operation for the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator (1946), which described how to operate Mark I and was the first extensive treatment of how to program a computer. In 1949 Hopper joined the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corp., where she designed one of the first compilers, which translated a programmer’s instructions into computer codes, and coined the word compiler. In 1957 her division developed Flow-Matic, the first English-language data-processing compiler, which had many features that inspired the development of COBOL.


Britannica: Grace Hopper Grace Hopper


Adele Goldberg

Why her? Dr. Adele Goldberg pioneered graphical-based user interfaces with her development of Smalltalk-80, an early object-oriented language to create UI objects that could be easily transferred among applications. Goldberg was also involved in the development of design templates, forerunners of the design patterns commonly used in software design.

Adele served as the president of the ACM from 1984 to 1986, and is the recipient of the ACM Software Systems Award, Forbes's "Twenty Who Matter" and PC Magazine's Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1994, she was inducted as an ACM Fellow. Adele co founded two companies: ParcPlace Systems, a company that created development tools for Smalltalk-based applications, and Neometron, Inc, an Internet support provider.


ACM Awards: Adele Goldberg

Wikipedia: Adele Goldberg

Women in Technology Hall of Fame: Adele Goldberg


Marlyn Meltzer, Kathleen McNulty, Jean Jennings Bartik, Frances Elizabeth Holberton, Frances Spence and Ruth Teitelbaum

Why them? They were the six original programmers of the first general-purpose electronic digital computer, ENIAC.

ENIAC was a huge machine full of black panels and switches, containing 17,468 vacuum tubes, 7200 crystal diodes, 1500 relays, 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors and approximately 5,000,000 hand-soldered joints. It weighed more than 30 short tons, occupied 167m2 and consumed 150 kW of electricity. Its huge power requirement led to a rumor that the lights across Philadelphia would dim every time it was switched on. ENIAC was unveiled to the public on February 14, 1946, their program captured the imagination of the press and made headlines across the country.

Although mentioned in Woman of the ENIAC, at the time, little recognition was attributed to the women working on the computer. The ENIAC became a very important machine during this time. The male engineers that build the machine soon became famous. The woman who ran this machine soon disappeared from history.


Wikipedia: Maryln Meltzer

Wikipedia: Kathleen Antonelli

Wikipedia: Jean Bartik 

Wikipedia: Frances Elizabeth Holberton 

Wikipedia: Frances Spence

Wikipedia: Ruth Teitelbaum

Jean E. Sammet

Why her? Sammet supervised the first scientific programming group for Sperry Gyroscope Co. (1955–1958). She initiated the concept, and directed the development of the first FORMAC (FORmula MAnipulation Compiler. (FORMAC was the first widely used general language and system for manipulating nonnumeric algebraic expressions.)

Jean founded and led the group developing some of the most influential programming languages and associated compilers such as FORMAC: the first widely-used general language and system for manipulating nonnumeric algebraic expressions, Ada: a language for  embedded and real-time systems with strong typing, and explicit parallelism, and COBOL an English-like programming language used primarily in business, finance, and administrative systems for companies and governments and still widely deployed on mainframe computers. 

Jean has given numerous lectures, published over 50 papers and wrote the authoritative book Programming Languages: History and Fundamentals,  

Jean was inducted as a member of the National Academy of Engineering and ACM Fellows. She won the IBM Outstanding Contribution Award, ACM Distinguished Service Award, Augusta Ada Lovelace Award, among many others.


Communications of the ACM: In Memoriam of Jean E. Sammet

IEEE Computer Society: Jean E. Sammet

IEEE Computer Society History Committee: Jean E. Sammet

Computer History Museum: Jean Sammet

New York Times: Jean Sammet, Co-Designer of a Pioneering Computer Language, Dies at 89


Lisa Su

Why her? She is the first woman to get the Gordon Moore award, she is shaping the future of AMD and silicon industry, having a real impact. She helped play a critical role in replacing aluminum interconnects within chips with copper, resulting in chips that were 20% faster and consumed less power. 

Lisa Su is a Taiwan-born American business executive and electrical engineer, who is the president and chief executive officer of Advanced Micro Devices. Early in her career, Su worked at Texas Instruments, IBM, and Freescale Semiconductor in engineering and management positions. Lisa Su has received the chip industry’s highest honor as the 2020 recipient of the Robert N. Noyce Award and she is the first woman recipient of that award. Su has bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She has published more than 40 technical articles and was named a Fellow of the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers in 2009.


VentureBeat: AMD CEO Lisa Su gets chip industry’s highest honor

Bing Video: How Lisa Su Turned Around AMD

AMD: AMD President and CEO Dr. Lisa Su

Susan Eggers

Why her? With her colleague Hank Levy and their students, she developed the first commercially viable multithreaded architecture, Simultaneous Multithreading, adopted by Intel (as Hyperthreading), IBM, Sun and others and the winner of the 2010 and 2011 ISCA Test-of-Time Awards.

ACM Fellow Susan Eggers received the 2018 ACM-IEEE CS Eckert-Mauchly Award for outstanding contributions to simultaneous multithreaded processor architectures (SMT) and multiprocessor sharing and coherency. The first and only woman to receive the Eckert-Mauchly Award in its 42-year history, she is also recipient of the 2009 ACM Athena Lecturer Award. Eggers is best known for her foundational work in developing and helping to commercialize SMT processors, one of the most important advancements in computer architecture in the past 30 years.  She has also received IBM Faculty Development Award, in 1990 an NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award, in 1994 the Microsoft Professorship in Computer Science and Engineering, and in 2009 the ACM-W Athena Lecturer.


Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington: Susan Eggers

ACM Award Winners: Susan Eggers

Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington: Susan Eggers' acceptance speech at ISCA 2018

IEEE Computer Society: "Little girls should be seen, not heard," she was told. Here's how one-time secretary Susan Eggers defied tradition—and became the first woman to win computer architecture’s top award  

Margaret Martonosi

Why her? A Professor of Computer Science at Princeton University, Martonosi is noted for her research in computer architecture and mobile computing with a particular focus on power-efficiency. She is an ACM and IEEE Fellow and recently named as the head Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate at NSF.

Martonosi's long-term research has been focused on computer architecture and mobile computing with an emphasis on power-efficiency. She was one of the architects of the Wattch power modeling infrastructure, a tool that was among the first to allow computer scientists to incorporate power consumption into early-stage computer systems design. Her work helped demonstrate that power needs can help dictate the design of computing systems. More recently, Martonosi’s work has also focused on architecture and compiler issues in quantum computing as well.

She is an inventor who holds seven U.S. patents and has co authored two technical reference books on power-aware computer architecture.

Martonosi has won numerous awards and honors, including a Jefferson Science Fellowship, the IEEE Technical Achievement Award, and the ACM SIGARCH Alan D. Berenbaum Distinguished Service Award, as well as numerous recognitions for her scholarship, teaching, and public service.


National Science Foundation: Margaret Martonio

Wikipedia: Margaret Martonosi

Vivienne Sze

Why her? Sze was recognized as the inaugural recipient of the ACM-W Rising Star Award, and has received numerous other awards, including the DARPA Young Faculty Award and faculty awards from Google, Facebook, and Qualcomm. As a member of the Joint Collaborative Team on Video Coding, she received the Primetime Engineering Emmy Award for the development of the HEVC video compression standard. 

She heads the Energy-Efficient Multimedia Systems Group at MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE). Her research involves applying the algorithm and hardware co-design approach to a broad set of applications including machine learning, computer vision, robotics, image processing and, of course, video coding. Recent results include energy-efficient algorithms and hardware for deep learning and autonomous navigation for miniature drones. Earlier in her career, Sze developed algorithms and hardware for the video coding standard H.265/HEVC.

She has received the 2017 Qualcomm Faculty Award, the 2016 Google Faculty Research Award, the 2016 Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Research Program Award, the 2016 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award, the 2014 DARPA Young Faculty Award, and the 2007 Design Automation Conference/ISSCC Student Design Contest Award. She was also a co-recipient of the 2016 MICRO Top Picks Award and the 2008 Asian-SSCC Outstanding Design Award.


People of ACM: Vivienne Sze

MIT: Vivienne Sze shares Engineering Emmy Award with colleagues

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