Computer pioneer Betty Holberton dies at 84

Computer pioneer Betty Holberton dies at 84

Frances 'Betty' Snyder Holberton, a pioneer in programming languages and other aspects of computing, died Dec. 8 in Rockville, Md. She was 84.

Holberton was part of a six-woman team that in 1945 programmed the Eniac, the first digital computer, for the Army. She later helped develop the Cobol and Fortran programming languages and created an instruction code for the Univac, the first commercial digital computer.

Holberton was among about 80 women'referred to as 'computors''the Army recruited during World War II to calculate ballistic trajectories. She was among the six women'classified as subprofessionals'picked to program a digital computer to shorten the time to make calculations.

The Eniac weighed 30 tons, had about 18,000 vacuum tubes and 3,000 switches, and was operated by setting dials. Programming work was completed in August 1945 and the computer was unveiled in February 1946. It could finish in 15 seconds a computation that would take a person 20 hours.

After the war, Holberton developed the C-10 instruction code for the Univac, made by the company that became Unisys Corp., and designed a control panel with a numeric keypad next to the keyboard. She also persuaded the company to change Univac's color from black to the beige that became the standard look for computers.

She developed the first sorting route for Univac and, working with the National Bureau of Standards'now the National Institute of Standards and Technology'she helped create Cobol and Fortran.

She also served as supervisory mathematician at the Navy's David W. Taylor Model Basin.

It wasn't until the 1990s that Holbertson got wide recognition. Among her honors was the 1997 Augusta Ada Lovelace award from the Association for Women in Computing.

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