Betty Holberton rose to fame when she became one of the six original programmers of ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator). It is the first general-purpose electronic digital computer, and was the inventor of breakpoints in computer debugging.

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Birth and Education

Holberton was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1917. She studied Journalism for the sole reason that its curriculum would give her the freedom to travel and explore.

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Career

  • The men in the country were engaged in World War II. That’s when the army needed women to compute ballistics trajectories. Moore School of Engineering then hired Holberton to work as a “computor”. She was soon chosen to be one of the six women to program the ENIAC. The purpose was to perform calculations for ballistics trajectories electronically for the Ballistic Research Laboratory (BRL), US Army.

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  • Their stellar work on ENIAC paved way for them in the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame.
  • Post-World War II, Holberton worked at Remington Rand and the National Bureau of Standards. She was the Chief of the Programming Research Branch, Applied Mathematics Laboratory at the David Taylor Model Basin in 1959.
  • Holberton was one of those who wrote the first generative programming system (SORT/MERGE), and wrote the first statistical analysis package. It proved helpful for the 1950 US Census.
  • She also worked with Grace Hopper for the development of early standards for the COBOL and FORTRAN programming languages.
  • Later, she worked with the National Bureau of Standards. She played an active role in the first two revisions of the Fortran language standard (“FORTRAN 77” and “Fortran 90”).

I had a fantastic life. Everything I did was the beginning of something new. – Betty Holberton

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Demise and Legacy

The world lost a technological gem when she died on December 8, 2011, in Rockville, Maryland. She was 84 then. Her debilitating condition was a result of heart disease, diabetes, and complications from a stroke she had suffered several years before.

Holberton School is a project-based school for software engineers based in San Francisco. It was founded in her honour in 2015.

Accolades

She received the Augusta Ada Lovelace Award in 1997. It is the highest award given by the Association of Women in Computing.

The same year, she was honoured with the IEEE Computer Pioneer Award from the IEEE Computer Society for developing the sort-merge generator.

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