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.

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