Bite-Sized History: Grace Hopper

I work at a tech company! There is some debate if I should or should not actually work there. I’m the one who is doing most of the debating.

I work in software testing! I make sure that when a software developer says, “this thing works”, it actually works. When it doesn’t work, that’s called a “bug”. I never really thought that much into why it’s called a bug. When a person gets sick, you say, “they caught a bug.” Maybe it’s the same for computers?*

This week the National Women’s History Museum posted the following photo of Grace Hopper:

Grace Hopper at the UNIVAC keyboard, 1960. Smithsonian

Grace Hopper at the UNIVAC keyboard, 1960. Smithsonian

She did lots of things that, trust me, are so cool if you work in IT: She invented the first compiler for a computer programming language, set standards for computer testing, and her work helped pioneer a new software language. These are cool things! She also came up with the phrase “debugging” as it pertains to computer glitches. You find a bug. Then you debug it. See?

So after sharing this with my coworkers, this beauty is unearthed: The first actual case of a computer bug.

"First Computer Bug", 1947. U.S. Naval Historical Center

“First Computer Bug”, 1947. U.S. Naval Historical Center

They found an actual bug in the computer! As Hopper was working with her associates, they discovered a moth in a computer relay. As they removed it, she remarked they were “debugging” the system. It’s a bug! In a computer! This is a pun come to life! You guys!

Reason I shouldn’t work at a tech company: I’m far too amused by the pun-potential of a bug tapped to a paper.


*Well, now I’m spiraling off into the origins of the phrase “caught a bug.” Does that come from IT history? Did IT get it from the phrase? I NEED ANSWERS! Stay tuned.

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