Edutopia is doing a set of reader surveys at their web site. There are a bunch of interesting categories but one in particular caught my eye – Who, from the Past or Present, You’d Like to Teach Your Class for a Day? The names they have a great and interesting names for sure. Einstein, Lincoln, King. But you know they don’t fit the topics for a computer science class. I didn’t have to think very long to know who I would want for a computer science class – Grace Murray Hopper.
I imagine that a lot of people would come up with Randy Pausch because of his amazing and inspiring speech. Some might come up with Babbage or Ada Lovelace because of their historic place in the development of computers. These and others are great choices but for me no one compares with Grace Hopper.
I had the pleasure of hearing Adm. Hopper speak a number of times. I was one of a group of students who had lunch with her when she gave a number of talks at the college where I did my undergraduate work so I got to meet her in a more casual situation as well. I found her to be very inspiring. I would have to say that more than anyone she instilled in me the notion that computer science as a career could be fun and interesting and full of constant learning. Also she was someone who thrived on out of the box thinking. She had a clock that ran counter-clockwise just to demonstrate that just because something had always been done one way that wasn’t the only way it could be done. “But we’ve always done it that way” was a statement that drove her up the wall. She promised listeners that if they ever said it she would show up on the spot to haunt them. I can’t hear or read that phase without thinking of her to this day and I first heard her speak over 35 years ago.
She was a person who was ahead of her time for her whole life. I believe that even today she would easily catch up and run ahead of current thinking in no time at all. I still remember things from that first time I heard her talk that didn’t come widespread for years afterwards but later became key to progress in the industry.
Now she could be a terror from what I understand. She drove people hard and gave fits to vendors whose software had to pass through her standards testing. It is completely appropriate that the ship the Navy named after her is a real warship. But boy could she inspire people! And that is the sort of person I’d want talking to my students.