Discovering Grace Hopper: An Overdue Epiphany in a Multi-Decade Tech
We all know who 𝗚𝗿𝗮𝗰𝗲 𝗛𝗼𝗽𝗽𝗲𝗿 is now…and I’m really struggling to figure out why I didn’t know who she was until a few years ago. Consider that I’ve got a few decades under my belt as a software architect and have been part of our evolving technical domain. From the foundational layers of software development to the awesome challenges of complex architectures I’ve found myself immersed in so much cool tech and its adoption.
My career has been and is still incredibly enriching though I have had very few role models. Grace Hopper should have been clearly in my line of sight. I’m not one to throw stones… the daughter of educators… and yet I don’t remember any mention of female contributors to science and tech with the exception of Marie Curie.
Reflections on a Journey
My journey into tech began in a different era. An era where personal computers were just starting to enter homes, and the internet was yet a figment of imagination for most. The industry was very much seen as a male-dominated sphere, which could have been a discouraging thought for a young woman entering the field. While I pressed forward undeterred, an early introduction to trailblazing women like Grace Hopper could have been incredibly inspirational.
The Question That Keeps Echoing
A question that continues to resonate with me is: “Why didn’t I know about Grace Hopper until I was an adult?” While pondering this, I recognize that the absence of Grace Hopper’s name from my early education wasn’t an isolated experience but shared by many, both men and women.
Possible Reasons for the Oversight
Reflecting on this question takes me back to a classroom where computer science seemed more like an abstract concept than a dynamic field shaped by vibrant minds. The curricula, in their quest to focus on theoretical aspects, often overlooked the humans behind the computers—especially women.
The Time Factor: Curriculum designers of yesteryears had the challenge of condensing an immense field into digestible bits, leading them to prioritize some aspects, often inadvertently omitting others. I choose to believe that these were not conscious acts of bias but perhaps limitations imposed by the academic norms of the time.
A Collective Blind Spot: Society’s narrative has long been shaped by collective perspectives, which unfortunately did not prominently feature women’s contributions to science and tech. This was not necessarily due to neglect or oversight but rather a societal blind spot that many were unaware they had.
Grace Hopper’s Relevance: Lessons I Could Have Learned Early On
Grace Hopper’s career offers invaluable lessons for any tech professional.
Early Debugging: Grace Hopper popularized the term ‘debugging’ after a moth was found in a computer she was working on. This small yet insightful episode could have been a fun and relatable story to introduce the concept of debugging to students or junior developers, making the process feel less daunting.
Language for the People: Her work on COBOL was groundbreaking, aiming to make programming more accessible. It laid the groundwork for many of the high-level languages we use today. This principle aligns closely with my work in DevSecOps, emphasizing the importance of making technologies more accessible to people, thereby ensuring wider adoption and better security.
Constant Learning: Grace Hopper was never stagnant; she was a lifelong learner. This aspect of her personality would have served as a powerful example in my early career, emphasizing that you never “arrive” but are continuously evolving in the tech space.
The Path Forward: Ensuring a Balanced Narrative
As someone committed to fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion in tech, I’ve taken this discovery as an opportunity to further refine my approach.
Curriculum Reforms: The first step toward changing the existing narrative is curriculum reform. Simple steps such as introducing case studies and biographies of diverse tech pioneers in the educational content can go a long way.
Mentorship: I’ve always believed that mentorship offers a pathway to excel in any field. We must create spaces where young women can learn about role models like Grace Hopper, even if they are not part of formal education.
Inclusive Storytelling: As professionals, we should strive to share stories that reflect the diversity in our field. Whether giving talks, writing articles, or merely interacting with younger colleagues, these stories can serve as micro-corrections to the prevailing narrative.
The Last Byte
Grace Hopper once said, “The most damaging phrase in the language is: ‘It’s always been done this way.'” This rings true for how we’ve approached tech education, sticking to limited narratives. But it’s never too late to change. Today, my mission includes not just solving complex problems but doing so while honoring the diverse minds that contribute to this field, and in doing so, inspire the next generation to envision a more inclusive future.
As I continue to contribute to the evolution of software architecture, DevSecOps, and generative AI technologies, I do so with a heightened sense of responsibility—to honor the pioneers that came before me and to pave the way for those who will come after. We all have much to learn and even more to teach.
** Are you game to join me in nurturing a diverse and inclusive future? **