Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Jean Sammet

It's Ada Lovelace Day today! Today we're joining people around the globe who are raising the visibility of women in computing and other STEM fields by recognizing women whose contributions they admire. 

Lady Ada, Countess of Lovelace, aka the “Enchantress of Numbers,” was a 19th-century British scientist whose work with Charles Babbage on the Analytical Engine would set the stage for modern computing. Although not appreciated by the public in her day, Ada Lovelace now is recognized as having published some of the first computer programs, and having inspired the work of Alan Turing, who in the 1940s built the first modern computer.

Today we hope you'll join us in shining a much-deserved spotlight on Jean Sammet:  mathematician, programmer of the original COBOL group, former president of the ACM, and developer of the FORMAC programming language. 

Jean Sammet was born in New York City in 1928. She earned a bachelor's and master's degree in math and took a job at Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, where she was trained for actuary program using punchcard machines. She then worked at Sperry Gyroscope, Sylvania Electric, and IBM, where she developed software for the Army, was an important contributor in the COBOL group, directed the development of FORMAC (a programming system for symbolic math), and led IBM's work on the Ada programming language.

Here she is reflecting on how she got involved in computing while at Sperry Gyroscope: 

"My boss's boss, my manager, came over to me one day and said, 'By the way, do you know we're building a digital computer?' I said, 'I've heard of it. I'm not sure I know what that means.' He said, 'We are building a digital computer, because we can see that that is the wave of the future. Do you want to be our programmer?' I asked the obvious question: 'What is a programmer?' And he said, 'I don't know, but I know we need one!' I looked at him, and I said, 'Well, is this anything like working with punch-cards?' And he said, 'I'm not sure, but I think it might be.'

So I thought, 'Well ...'"

NCWIT will honor Jean Sammet with the 2013 NCWIT Pioneer Award next year and we look forward to meeting her in person!