Roger Sen

Roger Sen

exploring area

18 May 2023

Grace Hopper did not create Cobol

Republishing something I wrote in some time back about the role of Grace Hopper in the creation of Cobol:

Grace Hopper was a pioneer in language development and thanks to her effort in FLOW-MATIC (pdf) we have Cobol today, but we have to realise that Cobol was a multi team, multi company effort and attributing its maternity to a single person would be extremely unfair.

Grace was not part of CODASYL (Conference on Data Systems Languages) exec. committee, but an advisor to it, nor she was part of the six main designers, two of them women by the way: Jean Sammet (Sylvania) and Gertrude Tierney (IBM).

So, was she influential? Yes, incredibly so… not only in the Cobol world but in the development of high level programming languages. But did she create Cobol? Saying that is not only inaccurate, but a disservice to multiple teams that worked to create Cobol.

There’s a wonderful paper on this matter by Jean Sammet: The early story of Cobol that I highly recommend.

Cobol, by the way, is a good example of a successful language designed by a committee, something that is usually disparaged in many programming language discussions.