Today in Computer Scientists You Haven’t Heard Of: Kay McNulty Mauchly Antonelli and Jean Bartik!

This is Kay McNulty Mauchly Antonelli (L) and Jean Bartik ® holding part of their first computer. You might notice its name printed on the cabinet behind them – it was ENIAC.

Kay and Jean were two of the ENIAC 6 – the six ladies whose job it was to write the first programs for the ENIAC computer. For those of you who don’t know your history, ENIAC was the first general-purpose electronic computer ever built – which means that Kay and Jean wrote the first programs to be run by a Turing-complete computer. Ever.

This was made significantly harder by the part where there were no API references for ENIAC. Or documentation of any kind. They had to reverse-engineer their own computer from schematic diagrams (and sit on the electrical engineers who put the thing together) to work out how to program it.

The ENIAC 6 weren’t just messing around. ENIAC became operational in late 1945, when the high-energy physicists of Los Alamos were starting to research hydrogen fusion. The physicists came with questions, the ladies converted said questions into hard code (needing more than a million punch cards!), and promptly showed the physicists where the holes in their work were.

Jean was directly involved in the project to convert ENIAC to a stored-procedure (a full Von Neumann) machine – and later, in the design of the incredibly successful UNIVAC series of mainframe computers.

Kay passed on in 2006, Jean followed her in 2011.

We'd like to hear from you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s