Happy International Women’s Day!

The male-dominated field of software engineering was once the domain of women. Early computer stuff was considered a form of clerical work, like data entry or switchboard operation. Prior to the Equal Pay Act of 1963, gender-based wage discrimination was both legal and socially acceptable, thus employers hired women to fill the ranks of low-skilled labor at bargain bin rates. (If today’s gender pay gap allegations are true, why aren’t tech companies taking advantage of this good deal?)

1950s and 60s computer programmers were also known as computer “feeders”, because the programmers fed data into a machine (“data feeds”). The job involved taking a flow chart, translating it into logic operations, looking the operations up in a machine language table, and punching the corresponding machine codes into cards.

Here is your assignment. Your boss is likely a systems analyst.

Translated into logic operations.

Resulting machine code.

As a mathematician at Remington Rand, Dr. Grace Hopper realized that computers would see wider adoption if they weren’t such a pain to program. She recommended that a new programming language be developed using English words. Her employer dismissed the idea, insisting that computers were machines of math.

You know the quote “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission”? That came from Grace Hopper. She created her own English-like language anyway, and called it FLOW-MATIC because it described flow charts. FLOW-MATIC was later expanded into COBOL (COmmon Business-Oriented Language).

More importantly, Dr. Hopper created a tool that could convert the new programming language into machine code, and thus invented the compiler. With this invention, computer-feeding jobs were automated out of existence. Software’s carnivorous rampage had begun, and women programmers were its first casualties.

Pre-Compiler Programming Tools for the UNIVAC I:

Stencil for drawing flow charts

See Also:
Univac FLOW-MATIC, 1957

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