The Grace Hopper Conference is one of the most coveted tickets for a women in technology. It has been the largest conference for women in technology and continues to grow every year from 10,000 attendees in 2017 and almost 20,000 attendees in 2018. This conference is meant to empower women and help support them in their careers by providing career fairs, and workshops.
You might be wondering why I am talking about a conference in technology, which barely touches upon the experience of women in the gaming community. Admiral Grace Hopper is a pioneer in computer programming; she was one of the first when no one else was allowed to, and she made her mark. Today, women are celebrating her success and her story in hopes that more of us will follow her footsteps. I want to talk about her story and her importance in the space of technology, because in the world of gaming, there has not been anyone like her yet. Women are usually in the administrative side such as managers, translators, show hosts, and everything else but the gamer themselves. I want to talk about the challenges and successes that Admiral Grace Hopper faced and use her as a model for potential success for women in gaming.
Grace Murray was born in New York City and received her undergraduate degree from Vassar College in mathematics and physics. She then received her master’s degree in mathematics at Yale and subsequently her PhD in mathematics in 1943. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hopper decided to join the war effort but was initially rejected because of her age and size. She was persistent and eventually received a waiver to join the US Naval Reserve. She took a leave of absence from her tenured associate professor position at Vassar College and completed intensive training. She was originally assigned working with the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard University. Then, she joined a team working on the IBM Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator, known as the MARK I, the first electromechanical computer in the US. In this war effort, Hopper became one of the first three coders and wrote the 561 user manual for MARK I. After the war, Hopper turned down her full professorship at Vassar and continued her work with computers, eventually working on the MARK II and MARK III computers under the Navy. At the end of her term as a research fellow, she left Harvard because there were no permanent positions for women.
Hopper wanted to keep working with computers and ended up working as a senior mathematician at Eckert-Mauchly which developed the Universal Automatic Computer (UNIVAC I). While working on the development of computers, Hopper was the first to build a compiler called A-0, which translated mathematical code into machine-readable code. She proposed the idea of writing programs in words, rather than symbols but was told her idea would not work. Regardless, she kept working on this compiler and three years later her team was running FLOW-MATIC, the first programming language to use word commands. Her work on word-based languages made computers accessible to people without an engineering or math background – people would feel more comfortable using computers such as for payroll purposes. She kept working on computer languages and eventually created COBOL, also known as ‘common business-oriented language.’ By 1970s, COBOL was the most extensively used computer language in the world.
While there were many obstacles back then in being a woman in technology, Admiral Hopper was the recipient of more than forty honorary degrees, and many scholarships, professorships, awards, and conferences are named in her honor. Her success in this male-dominated field serves as an inspiration to women today everywhere.
In gaming communities, where online platforms consist of over 80% male, there is very little space for women to take lead. Often, people would associate women’s success in their physical attributes rather than their actual physical work. Someone could be really good at a game and not get the same opportunities as a male player because they are only using their “personality” or that they are better off creating content than competing. With the increasing size of people subscribing to videogames and its assimilation in our regular entertainment, such as the Overwatch League on the ESPN channel, women are less likely to pursue or even enjoy this field because there is a lack of representation in the players.
I would hope to see an Admiral Grace Hopper in the gaming community, someone who changes the norms in society, and someone who kept going even if people told her to stop.