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  • Authors@Google: Kurt Beyer

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    A Hollywood biopic about the life of computer pioneer Grace Murray Hopper
    (19061992) would go like this: a young professor abandons the ivy-covered walls of academia to serve her country in the Navy after Pearl Harbor and
    finds herself on the front lines of the computer revolution. She works hard to succeed in the all-male computer industry, is almost brought down by personal problems but survives them, and ends her career as a celebrated elder stateswoman of computing, a heroine to thousands, hailed as the inventor of computer programming.

    Throughout Hoppers later years, the popular media told this simplified version of her life story. In Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age, Kurt Beyer goes beyond the screenplay-ready myth to reveal a more authentic Hopper, a vibrant, complex, and intriguing woman whose career paralleled the meteoric trajectory of the postwar computer industry.

    Hopper made herself one of the boys in Howard Aikens wartime Computation Laboratory at Harvard, then moved on to the Eckert and Mauchly Computer Corporation. Both rebellious and collaborative, she was influential in male-dominated military and business organizations at a time when women were encouraged to devote themselves to housework and childbearing. Hoppers greatest technical achievement was to create the tools that would allow humans to communicate with computers in terms other than ones and zeroes. This advance influenced all future programming and software design and laid the foundation for the development of todays user-friendly personal computers.

    Kurt grew up in a blue-collar, immigrant family in Huntington, Long
    Island. Kurts Dad Karl was a baker and his Mom Ann a nurse. Kurt
    was captain of the baseball and basketball teams at John Glenn High
    School, an accomplished trumpet player, and received his nomination to
    the U.S. Naval Academy from the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynahan.
    While at Annapolis Kurt played baseball and senior year was named
    Brigade Commander, in charge of the 4500 person brigade of midshipman.
    He graduated Annapolis in 1990 and was commissioned an officer in the
    United States Navy. Before attending flight school Kurt continued his
    education at the University of Oxford for two years. At Oxford, he
    completed a masters degree and rowed for Oxford where his crew competed
    in the finals of the Henley Royal Regatta in 1991. He also played
    on the University basketball team which won the British University
    Championship in 1992.

    Following Oxford Kurt headed to Pensacola for Naval Flight School
    where he graduated first in his class. Kurt flew F-14 Tomcats and was
    assigned to a fighter squadron at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia
    Beach. Injury cut his naval career short, and Kurt was honorably
    discharged, receiving a Navy Commendation Medal and National Defense
    Service Medal. In 1997 Kurt moved to California to convalesce and
    complete a PhD at the University of California, Berkeley. Kurt fully
    immersed himself in the Bay area dot.com revolution, co-founded a
    digital media start-up, and married a beautiful 4th generation San
    Franciscan.

    The tragedy of September 11th changed Kurts path and he returned to
    Annapolis as a civilian professor to help create the Naval Academys
    new Information Technology major and lectured regularly on the process
    of technological innovation. He served on the Academy faculty 3 1/
    2 years and helped direct the international scholarships program.
    During this period the Naval Academy had the most British scholarship
    winners of any American University, including 8 Rhodes, 3 Marshall,
    and 4 Fitzgerald scholars. In January 2006 Kurt returned to the San
    Francisco Bay area to head up full time a digital media start-up and
    co-authored multiple patents (pending) on high speed digital data
    processing. Currently Kurt works for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney
    and advises start-ups and executives in Silicon Valley. He lives in
    Mill Valley, Ca with his wife Johanna and two sons Charlie and Gus.

    This talk was hosted by Boris Debic and is part of the computer history
    series.

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