Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Programming IBM

Jean Sammet, Co-Designer of COBOL, Dies at 89 (nytimes.com) 73

theodp writes: A NY Times obituary reports that early software engineer and co-designer of COBOL Jean Sammet died on May 20 in Maryland at age 89. "Sammet was a graduate student in math when she first encountered a computer in 1949 at the Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign," the Times reports. While Grace Hopper is often called the "mother of COBOL," Hopper "was not one of the six people, including Sammet, who designed the language -- a fact Sammet rarely failed to point out... 'I yield to no one in my admiration for Grace,' she said. 'But she was not the mother, creator or developer of COBOL.'"
By 1960 the Pentagon had announced it wouldn't buy computers unless they ran COBOL, inadvertently creating an industry standard. COBOL "really was very good at handling formatted data," Brian Kernighan, tells the Times, which reports that today "More than 200 billion lines of COBOL code are now in use and an estimated 2 billion lines are added or changed each year, according to IBM Research."

Sammet was entirely self-taught, and in an interview two months ago shared a story about how her supervisor in 1955 had asked if she wanted to become a computer programmer. "What's a programmer?" she asked. He replied, "I don't know, but I know we need one." Within five years she'd become the section head of MOBIDIC Programming at Sylvania Electric Products, and had helped design COBOL -- before moving on to IBM, where she worked for the next 27 years and created the FORTRAN-based computer algebra system FORMAC.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Jean Sammet, Co-Designer of COBOL, Dies at 89

Comments Filter:
  • by Known Nutter ( 988758 ) on Sunday June 04, 2017 @04:35PM (#54547677)
    STOP RUN.
    • GOTO A900-GOLF-CLAP VIA A910-ROFL INTERTWINING B100-I-SEE-WHAT-YOU-DID-THERE OR SOMETHING-LIKE-THAT

    • The TAO of Programming, section 1.2:

      The Tao gave birth to machine language. Machine language gave birth to the assembler.
      The assembler gave birth to the compiler. Now there are ten thousand languages.
      Each language has its purpose, however humble. Each language expresses the Yin and Yang of software. Each language has its place within the Tao.
      But do not program in COBOL if you can avoid it.

  • His card got punched. RIP.
  • by mfh ( 56 )

    All those terrifying nightmares that language gave me in university turned out to be some fond memories, in retrospect. COBOL's inflexibility taught me to become impeccable and also how Zen can help programmers to overcome any obstacle.

    It is a sad day, but he had a long life. RIP.

  • by RabidReindeer ( 2625839 ) on Sunday June 04, 2017 @05:13PM (#54547813)

    This is why "brogrammers" disgust me. Yes, I've seen a lot of women drop out of the profession. Often to become parents, sometimes to move into management or project administration, sometimes for reasons unknown. But "J. Sammet" is an author or co-author of a lot of the historical computer literature in my library. You'll find her name in Knuth, in collections by Flores, and other places besides. She may not have been as publicly visible as Adm. Hopper or even Margaret Hamilton, but she helped build the foundations for modern-day IT.

    In addition to valuable contributions in the field of programming language design, she was also the first female president of the Association for Computing Machinery, back when the real nerds all belonged to ACM.

    Much of the testosterone-laden crap from Silicon Valley, as well as "normal" programming from the world all over would not have been possible without someone like Sammet to lead the way.

    It's sad that she never got the full recognition she deserved from the world at large - even the appearance announcement here is 2 weeks late. Although her peers respected her greatly. We've lost a giant unawares.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      > ...even the appearance announcement here is 2 weeks late. ... We've lost a giant unawares.

      Slashdot has been behind the curve for at least a decade, and the problem has gotten worse since the latest managers took over. The days when slashdot got the scoop on tech news are long, long gone.

      _Real_ nerds read this: https://cacm.acm.org/news/217652-in-memoriam-jean-e-sammet-1928-2017/fulltext

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

        Slashdot has never gotten the scoop, because Slashdot has always been a news aggregator. You ignorant idiot.

    • Much of the testosterone-laden crap from Silicon Valley, as well as "normal" programming from the world all over would not have been possible without someone like Sammet to lead the way.

      That's a rather bold statement, unless the "someone like Sammet" part meant "either her or a workable substitute". Very few things in computing have been so unique as to require a single individual. And even that may be a stretch. Perhaps Alan Kay comes closest, but even that I'm not sure about.

      Funny that you should mention Hamilton though; her popularity being a recent pop-culture phenomenon, quite the opposite of the towering Hopper.

      • Much of the testosterone-laden crap from Silicon Valley, as well as "normal" programming from the world all over would not have been possible without someone like Sammet to lead the way.

        That's a rather bold statement, unless the "someone like Sammet" part meant "either her or a workable substitute". Very few things in computing have been so unique as to require a single individual. And even that may be a stretch. Perhaps Alan Kay comes closest, but even that I'm not sure about.

        Funny that you should mention Hamilton though; her popularity being a recent pop-culture phenomenon, quite the opposite of the towering Hopper.

        The point here is that according to some, even a "someone like Sammet" would have to be male. Which, by her very prominence is demonstrably false.

        I consider Kay to be one of the towering figures in the field, but Kay very likely has dealt directly or indirectly with a lot of Sammet's work - Many of his most significant ideas date back to the early 1960's when Sammet was in the prime of her career. There is certainly considerable overlap - Jean Sammet was the founder of ACM SigPLAN, so Kay's language develpm

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      Much of the testosterone-laden crap from Silicon Valley, as well as "normal" programming from the world all over would not have been possible without someone like Sammet to lead the way.

      This I blame mostly on Nintendo. Yes, Nintendo, with the NES.

      Take a look at the video game and computer ads pre-video game crash. You see the whole family - dad, mom, son, daughter gathered in front of the TV behind a game console, or PC. It's fun for the whole family.

      But post crash, things changed. This especially with the

      • That's an interesting hypothesis but it doesn't explain, e.g., similar distributions of professions in Comecon countries which certainly didn't have any "Nintendo sections" in shops. (Maybe different things were at work in such places, though.)
  • by haruchai ( 17472 ) on Sunday June 04, 2017 @05:31PM (#54547871)

    What's a girl gotta do to get noticed around here?

  • Hopper & COBOL (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Sunday June 04, 2017 @06:12PM (#54548049) Journal

    While Grace Hopper is often called the "mother of COBOL," Hopper "was not one of the six people, including Sammet, who designed the language -- a fact Sammet rarely failed to point out... 'I yield to no one in my admiration for Grace,' she said. 'But she was not the mother, creator or developer of COBOL.'"

    Although different people give different accounts, the gist of what happened as I gather it was that the committee became on a whole argumentative and split into generally two groups: those who wanted to just finish the project, and the others who felt better theories were needed first before laying down a language.

    Because time was running out, the get-it-done group borrowed heavily from existing languages, including Grace's languages. Because their mandate was to make COBOL "English-like", Grace's work was the furthest along in this regard, at least in a practical sense. Thus, COBOL borrowed a good many ideas from Grace's languages.

    From the article: "COBOL was initially intended as a short-term solution to the problem of handling business data -- a technology that might be useful for a year or two until something better came along."

    • Grace was technical consultant to that committee of six. Anyway, it's clear from looking at grammar of Grace's FLOW-MATIC that COBOL design was influenced by it.

  • by Joe Branya ( 777172 ) on Sunday June 04, 2017 @09:48PM (#54548991)

    Six people developed COBAL during a set of 1959 allnighters in a NYC hotel room. One was a woman. Did any of the men get a NYT obit?

    They were all important figures in their day but only one gets the Times treatment because the NYT is on a "Women in technology" kick. Death as newshook for an editorial.

    They did the same thing with Grace Hopper. Now Grace was a shrewd, funny lady. I used to drive her to Mensa meeting in the 1970s. She lived in a high-rise in Arlington, Va and I lived nearby. One time, with rain pouring through a hole in my convertible's roof, I apologized for getting her soaked and we talked about her elderly, leaky, model A Ford, which somehow made it through WWII via a couple of engine rebuilds she did on her kitchen table. She liked guys- they helped her drag the motor up the stairs.

    Grace and Miss Sammet did share one thing; they never married and never had children or grandchildren. Making that whole thing work - the relationship; the long, intellectually challenging hours; the reality of raising children- is easier now but, take my word for it, the young tech girls here in Austin still talk about it, especially in private among themselves.

    All I can say is "So long Jean. So long Grace.", dying alone in a nursing home. It all makes me a little sad.

    • It's comments like these that keep me reading slashdot after all these years.

      The reason women need to be mentioned more is to motivate them to join in. I once read that it used to be easier for women to become software engineers, because you didn't need to know anything about it to start formal studies (you still can for other engineering disciplines). Now, you already need to be in a club to belong in first year. Never mind the biological burden of childbearing. I used to resent the extra help women seem t

  • computers and languages, when did you hear about them last time?

  • It figures that two women were involved in creating one of the most verbose programming languages.

  • This will probably decimate the slashdot readership through death by apoplexy.

Make headway at work. Continue to let things deteriorate at home.

Working...