It’s a sad week for the computing industry. IBM reports (via the New York Times) that computing pioneer and company fellow Frances Allen died of Alzheimer’s on her birthday, August 4th, at the age of 88. She’s best known for making vital contributions to compilers, or the software that turns raw code into fast-running executables. From 1966 onward, she and scientist John Cocke wrote papers detailing algorithms and frameworks that helped compilers become much more efficient — if you’ve ever built an app, you likely owe something to Allen’s work.
She and her peers also made progress on parallel computing, where tasks are shared across systems to speed up their completion.
Allen was also instrumental to advancing women in technology. Apart from being one of the relatively few women participating in early work on computers (she joined IBM as a code instructor in 1957), she made a point to support women and served as a mentor. Half the experimental compiler group at IBM was made of women during the 1970s and 1980s. She was the first woman to become an IBM Fellow, receiving the distinction in 1989. She was also the first to win a Turing Award, in 2006, and an upcoming IEEE award will be named after her.
In those lights, Allen’s work will likely persist for a very long time to come. The apps on your computer or phone depend on the speed that comes from modern compilers, and Allen helped crack the door open for more inclusiveness in tech. She’ll be missed.
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