I’ve put this picture on my office door:
Still blown away by this photo. pic.twitter.com/car3vroQQg
– Steve Milan (@stevemilan) May 9, 2015
Margaret Hamilton is an inspirational figure and we really should know more about her and her work!
Hamilton is now 78 and runs Hamilton Technologies, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company she founded in 1986. She’s lived to see “software engineering” – a term she coined – grow from a relative backwater in computing into a prestigious profession.
In the early days, women were often assigned software tasks because software just wasn’t viewed as very important. “It’s not that managers of yore respected women more than they do now,” Rose Eveleth writes in a great piece on early women programmers for Smithsonian magazine. “They simply saw computer programming as an easy job. It was like typing or filing to them and the development of software was less important than the development of hardware. So women wrote software, programmed and even told their male colleagues how to make the hardware better.”
“I began to use the term ‘software engineering’ to distinguish it from hardware and other kinds of engineering,” Hamilton told Verne’s Jaime Rubio Hancock in an interview. “When I first started using this phrase, it was considered to be quite amusing. It was an ongoing joke for a long time. They liked to kid me about my radical ideas. Software eventually and necessarily gained the same respect as any other discipline.”
Right on, Margaret.
The above quote is from this piece on vox.com by Dylan Matthews is worth reading – it contains lots of interesting bits and pieces, not least the fact that Apollo code was literally ‘hard wired’: it was woven in wire… astonishing to anyone who simply fires up a text editor and then uploads via ftp etc. etc. now…
The process of actually coding in the programs was laborious, as well. The guidance computer used something known as “core rope memory”: wires were roped through metal cores in a particular way to store code in binary. “If the wire goes through the core, it represents a one,” Hamilton explained in the documentary Moon Machines. “And around the core it represents a zero.” The programs were woven together by hand in factories. And because the factory workers were mostly women, core rope memory became known by engineers as “LOL memory,” LOL standing for “little old lady.”