Saturday, September 13, 2014

Recommended podcast: the women who programmed the ENIAC

How some math-savvy women helped win World War II and became the first computer programmers

Stephen Cherry of IEEE Spectrum interviews LeAnn Erickson about the women who were hired to program the ENIAC just after World War II. The ENIAC was at the University of Pennsylvania and, during the war, many of the women had been using calculators to compute artillery shell trajectories at the nearby Aberdeen Proving Ground.

These women were "computers" at the Jet Propulsion Lab.

LeAnn Erickson is a professor of film and video production at Temple University and an independent filmmaker. She produced and directed Top Secret Rosies, a documentary on those early ENIAC programmers.

Here is the trailer:

Also, check out this post on the US Army Web site.

Update 10/6/2014

NPR has done a segment (6:46) on The Forgotten Female Programmers who Crated Modern Tech -- the ENIAC programmers, Grace Hopper and Ada, Countess of Lovelace. It is based on a new book, The Innovators, by Steve Jobs biographer Walter Isacsson.

Update 10/22/2014

Jean Jennings Bartik, one of the first seven ENIAC programmers, has written an autobiography. Her son, Timothy Bartick sent me a link to his review of the book, in which he highlights some of the recognition she has received and describes her effort to improve the standing of women in technology.

In the following six minute video, Ms. Bartik tells of her education, early work as a "computer" at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds and later as an ENIAC programmer.

The video begins with a short clip (6m 9s) showing Ms. Bartik programming the ENIAC. (This was before the stored program computer -- the ENIAC was programmed by setting dials and switches and plugging in switchboard like wires).

Update 10/23/2014

Yesterday I posted links to a short video interview of Jean Bartik and her autobiography.

She was an exceptional woman and had a significant career after her work on the ENIAC. The same can be said of other ENIAC programmers. Read more about each of them on their Wikipedia pages:

Update 11/30/2024

The Computers, another documentary on the women who programmed the ENICAC will be released soon. You can see the trailer here.

Update 5/24/2015

CIO Magazine has a post with links to photos and ancilary material on "Nine programming languages and the women who created them." The title is misleading -- the nine women were significant contribtors, but not the sole "creators" of the languages, but post itself makes that clear, citing other team members.

Grace Hopper, creator of FLOW-MATIC and COBOL contributor