Jean Bartik (1924 – 2011)

Ms. Jean Bartik was one of the women who programmed the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), which is credited as the first all-electronic digital computer.

She was one of the first computer programmers and a pioneering forerunner in a technology that came to be known as software.

When the ENIAC was shown off at the University of Pennsylvania in February 1946, it generated headlines in newspapers across the country. But the attention was all on the men and the machine. The women were not even introduced at the event.

Ms. Bartik and Frances Elizabeth Holberton, were the lead programmers among the small team of women who worked on the Eniac.

The Eniac women were wartime recruits with math skills, whose job was initially described as plugging in wires to “set up the machine.” But converting the math analysis into a process that made sense to the machine, so that a calculation could flow through the electronic circuitry to completion, proved to be a daunting challenge.

These women, were the first to encounter the whole question of programming and met the challenge. Ms. Bartik called working with the Eckert-Mauchly team on the Eniac and later the Univac a “technical Camelot,” a tight-knit group advancing the frontiers of computing.

Fun fact:

  • There were no manuals or instruction guides for programming the ENIAC, which included 17,468 vacuum tubes, occupied more than 680 square feet, and weighed 30 tons. No manuals. Not even a keyboard. Not even punch cards!
  • The women figured out mostly through trial and error or looking at the electric circuitry, how to set ENIAC’s 3,000 switches and hundreds of connection cables so calculations would eventually progress correctly through the complex machine.

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