In early 1945, the United States military was recruiting female mathematicians for a top-secret project to help win World War II. Betty Jean Jennings (Bartik), a twenty-year-old college graduate from rural northwest Missouri, wanted an adventure, so she applied for the job. She was hired as a “computer” to calculate artillery shell trajectories for Aberdeen Proving Ground, and later joined a team of women who programmed the Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer (ENIAC), the first successful general-purpose programmable electronic computer. In 1947, Bartik headed up a team that modified the ENIAC into the first stored-program electronic computer.
Even with her talents, Bartik met obstacles in her career due to attitudes about women’s roles in the workplace. Her perseverance paid off and she worked with the earliest computer pioneers and helped launch the commercial computer industry. Despite their contributions, Bartik and the other female ENIAC programmers have been largely ignored. In the only autobiography by any of the six original ENIAC programmers, Bartik tells her story, exposing myths about the computer’s origin and properly crediting those behind the computing innovations that shape our daily lives.
So rarely do we get to hear stories of challenge and invention from the pioneers themselves. In Pioneer Programmer, Jean Jennings Bartik shares the opportunities of World War II and the technology challenges of ENIAC, BINAC and UNIVAC. She takes us back to the times that changed our world, and introduces us to the programmers, engineers, and visionaries who made it happen. Jean was a great light, and to the future she entrusted her wonderful story.
—Kathy Kleiman, founder,
ENIAC Programmers Project
A firsthand account of the history of American computing from one of the last human computers—who was also one of the first computer programmers—this book combines personal reflections and historical analysis in a lively narrative. Bartik gives readers a sense of the individuals and institutions who shaped computing in the twentieth century as well as her perspective on important issues such as continuing gender disparities in the field. The author’s personality sparkles throughout, and many photographs complement the text. This is a truly unique study and I highly recommend it.
—Jennifer S. Light, Northwestern University
This book is unique; it is not another secondhand retelling of the invention of the computer. It is not like the many technical histories that are part scholarly overview and part narrative designed to elevate some particular inventor to superhuman status. This is Jean’s story.
—Bill Mauchly, son of ENIAC
co-inventor John Mauchly