How six young women became the world's first computer programmers

In 1945, 20-year-old mathematician Betty Jean Jennings moved to Philly and started work on a secret military project: the first modern electronic computer. Now, in a fascinating posthumous memoir, the tech pioneer tells her own story.

By Jean Jennings Bartik
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 2 | Posted Apr. 2, 2014

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While it would have been nice to be included in the festivities and receive our own accolades for a job well done, at least all of us knew the truth about our contributions. Each of us women could also feel a quiet satisfaction in being able to say, “I was there.” We had tamed a mechanical beast and made it purr.

Pioneer Programmer: Jean Jennings Bartik and the Computer that Changed the World, written by Jean Jennings Bartik and edited by Jon T. Rickman and Kim D. Todd, is copyright © 2013 by Truman State University Press and is available now in paperback, Kindle and other ebook formats. 

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1. jerry silverman said... on Apr 2, 2014 at 10:21PM

“Colossus was the world's first electronic digital computer that was at all programmable. The Colossus computers were developed for British codebreakers during World War II to help in the cryptanalysis of the Lorenz cipher in December 1943. Colossus was the first combining digital, (partially) programmable, and electronic. The first fully programmable digital electronic computer was the ENIAC which was completed in 1946.”

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2. Tim Bartik said... on Apr 4, 2014 at 10:47AM

“Thanks for doing this story.

I hope the comments don't turn into another debate over what was the "first computer". A stale debate -- it depends upon what you mean.

What is beyond dispute is that the ENIAC led directly to the modern computer industry. Other early computers were classified or unknown ENIAC started out classified, but then was unveiled. From an economics point of view, it is a fascinating example of how government investment in applied research can spur economic development. But unfortunately, Philadelphia did not then become the center of the computer industry -- a topic my mother also discusses in her memoirs. Why did IBM take over the industry, and not the ENIAC's successors at Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation, later UNIVAC?”


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