The Computer Pioneer You Should Know About

By Amy-Willard Cross

You can thank Grace Hopper if you are reading this story on a laptop. 

Grace Hopper was a US Navy Rear Admiral and the woman who kind of made computers do a lot of what they do for us.  

Even so, she doesn’t have her own movie—even though Steve Jobs has already inspired several. 

In a doubly unlikely move, Hopper joined the Navy when she was 37 and underweight. She hoped to break code like those swashbuckling cryptographers. But after completing a math class, she was told that she had to program computers instead. And did she ever. 

All this unlikeliness has inspired filmmaker Melissa Pierce to make a documentary that’s on Indiegogo today. As she puts it, Hopper "really made the stuff instead of packaging it like Jobs." The film, "Born with Curiosity: The Grace Hopper Story,is ready for production—it's just awaiting some money.

Hopper was the first person to realize that computers could do more than just math. She created the computer compiler that allowed computers to compile complex math programs, and later sped-created the programming language COBOL, a language which most computer programs are still based on today.

In a telephone interview, Pierce says, "But she had to push to make people realize they could run a program." Luckily for Apple, Google, Microsoft, and the rest of us, she pushed hard enough.

The filmmaker, Pierce--and her partner Marian Mangoubi-- also hope to dispel some myths about women and computing, such as the notion that they are rare as unicorns, and show that there is a history of women and computing.

Pierce, who also learned to code in her 30s, was attracted to Hopper’s no-nonsense attitude. She says, "I love the way that she said, ‘If it’s a good idea you should do it.’" Like Hopper, Pierce has had an unusual path in life. Her recent life chapter was being COO of an innovative company, Everpurse, that made purses to charge phones; an earlier chapter involved the making of a film, "Life in Perpetual Beta," an interview-based documentary how technology has changed behavior. It premiered at the Chicago International Film Festival in 2010, and won an award for merit at Hollywood Los Angeles Film Festival in 2011.

So Pierce knows how to make a movie as well as write code. She does not seemed poised to join the Navy, however. 

You can support the project on Indiegogo. But first, get a taste of her life and the film.

 

images: from the "Born with Curiosity"" trailer courtesy of Melissa Pierce

 

correction: this article was amended to add the name of the other filmmaker and clarify how Hopper entered programming.