It’s clear that James Damore, the former Google engineer who was terminated for a memo he wrote suggesting that women are constitutionally unsuited for jobs in technology never met the late U.S. Navy Rear Admiral and computer programming pioneer Grace Hopper.
I suspect that he has no idea who she was, but considering his short tenure in the technology business, that’s not surprising. Too often people make assumptions based on what they think they know rather than what is real.
For those with short memories, Admiral Grace Hopper was the programmer who worked on the very first mainframe computers during World War II. She famously described the first computer bug that affected programming by pinning the actual insect to the facility’s log book—after she’d retrieved it from the electrical relays that transmitted the binary code that was used in those days.
I remember Admiral Hopper from the time she found out that some programmers that I supervised were coding in COBOL. She was not pleased and I found out first-hand what a dressing down by the Admiral felt like.
Keep in mind, she was one of the inventors of COBOL, but she believed that structured programming, such as you use in C (this was a while ago) really made more sense. So after her withering blast aimed at me, she went to the white board and showed my staff how to do the same things in C. And she wrote the code without references. She could draft C code in her head.
After I finished licking my wounds, two things happened. I filled out a budget request to convert the program to C, citing the Admiral’s directive and I became a huge fan of all things Grace Hopper.
Since then, the recognition for Admiral Hopper and her role in affirming the place of women in science and technology has grown. By the time she died, her recognition included the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Technology.
Since then I’ve worked with and been supervised by many women who has very strong talent in technology and engineering. The biggest obstacles these women have faced weren't with their technological capabilities.
The obstacles arise from supervisors and hiring managers who make assumptions on the capabilities of women before they step in the door or get a chance to do a day's work. This problem isn’t limited to women, but includes a wide range of minorities who have found it difficult to succeed in the technology industry.
It’s the view that only white male engineers can possibly handle the work of developing new technology that is one of the biggest threats that we face in our economy and in our culture.
The costs are very real. I remember when my daughters were interviewing with schools where they wanted to at the time to study physics. My older daughter was told outright by a representative of the University of Virginia that “Girls can’t do physics."