A Little Nostalgia

Dec 16, 2013
Elisa Kendall

This time of year is always busy for everyone, and the December OMG Technical Meeting always comes in the middle of holiday preparations, making matters even more challenging. Nonetheless, on Monday afternoon, while attempting to get online as our architecture board session was getting started, I noticed the Google Doodle honoring Grace Hopper’s birthday. It brought a smile, thinking of the many stories my dad told over the years about working with her.

English: Commodore Grace M. Hopper, USNR Offic...

Commodore Grace M. Hopper, USNR (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dad was a “baby programmer”, 2nd lieutenant in the USAF, and barely into his 20s when he was sent to the Census Bureau in Philadelphia to learn about this amazing machine the Air Force had just purchased.  He was part of Grace’s team in 1951-52, and then moved to Berkeley to work on his masters in mathematics, where he met mom.  My sister, Anni, was even quicker to notice than I was that day, and posted a letter she found in dad’s closet from Grace on Facebook, which led to a great article in Time’s Tech section the next day.

Herbert Finnie

Herb Finnie in 1955

Among the stories that dad shared about those two very special years, a couple of things stood out to him.  He and his other Air Force buddies would spend evenings together listening to and playing music — he worked his way through college playing in dance bands — and apparently many of his friends also played instruments or sang. So one of his takeaways was that musicians make great programmers, and whenever he was recruiting for Lockheed, he looked for gaming, music, and language skills in the folks he hired, making him one of their most successful software engineering recruiters for at least a generation if not longer.

Another was a prediction that women would make great computer scientists, something he encouraged me to try from the time I was in middle school. Dad said that Grace’s team was almost exclusively women until he and his buddies showed up to be trained, and that we would actually dominate the field in the long run.  This latter prediction hasn’t panned out, of course.  The fact that there were only a handful of women at the OMG meeting last week was simply a disappointing reminder. Several of us are in leadership positions, though, chairing working groups in analysis and design, middleware, software assurance, myself on the architecture board, etc., and we are clearly leaving our proverbial mark.  But … this is just another indicator that we have more work to do, and that I personally need to be as supportive and do as much coaching and outreach as I can for the young women who cross my path.


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