Update: Sorry to say, this event has been postponed to January
Most people know a bit about the story of the ENIAC, the first electronic computer. A few years ago, a good friend of mine named Kathy Kleimann discovered a remarkable story about the team that wrote the software for the ENIAC — the world’s first programmers. These pioneers of our field started out working during the war as “computers” — which is to say human beings and worked out military algorithms (mostly ballistics) by hand. Six of the brightest were recruited to make the first software for the quirky ENIAC, as they wanted it to do in software what they were dong by hand.
In a high-tech version of the “Rosie the Riveter” story these first software developers were all women. Math, after all, was one of those things that girls/women were allowed to be good at in that more sexist society. They worked together with the hardware engineers to get the machine calculating, and later converted it from wiring to a true stored program computer. They worked out many of the earliest concepts of software, inventing them from scratch. After the war, several of them went on to careers in software and at the early computer companies.
Their stories were not well reported, and some histories even presumed the women standing next to the ENIAC in demos were decoration rather than the coders making it go.
Unfortunately, it’s now 60 years later, and three of the team of six have died, and the other 3 are not getting younger. So Kathy set out to produce a documentary on these pioneers of our field. Time is running out. To raise some money for it, she has arranged a dinner at Google HQ for Thursday Next (Nov 8) cooked by one of Google’s exclusive internal restaurants. Folks who come will get a chance to meet Jean Bartik, one of those six pioneers of software, hear her story, see some preliminary footage and help the documentary. The mostly tax deductible donation is $100. Bartik, aside from coding for the ENIAC, also helped to design the BINAC and UNIVAC after the war.
You can read more about the project at the ENIAC Programmers and you can register for the event. If you are on Facebook, you can also mark yourself as attending through the facebook event entry though you must also register on the Google site.