Computer scientist Frances Allen, known for her work on compiling, dies at 88


Oral-History:Frances “Fran” Allen“Fran”_Allen

edit: I’m unreasonably interested in the bit about ALPHA.

The Harvest machine. So I ended up—starting in the ‘59, ‘60, ‘63 period—ended up being the liaison with the National Security Agency on the language: the Alpha language that was being designed to express the problems of code-breaking. Just as FORTRAN is the [language for] science, they were designing, with us, a language called Alpha (it doesn’t stand for anything) for doing code-breaking on the Harvest computer. So I ended up having the optimizing part of the compiler and being the liaison with the National Security Agency on this Alpha language; and that liaison mostly entailed making suggestions—working with them on what we could handle in the compiler, what we couldn’t, and, in some cases, additional things that would be useful because we knew we knew how to do that, we could figure out how to do that. Then I ended up spending a year down at the National Security Agency, when we installed the system.

Looking to see if this artifact is online:

Stretch HARVEST Compiler, lecture by Fran Allen

From abstract: " In response to government requests, IBM Research designed a system for a very large data processing application, known as the HARVEST system, including Stretch, which was delivered to the National Security Agency in the early 1960s. The combined Stretch-HARVEST Project created a milieu for developing new technologies, new hardware architectures, and new software to meet the challenges of both systems. One of the guiding principles of the project was to make programming easier by the use of a compiler to generate code automatically from statements in the user’s language.

Allen was a member of the ALPHA language design team which created a very high level language featuring, among other things, the ability to create new alphabets beyond the system defined alphabets (e.g. English, decimal, integer, binary) and treat complex, heterogeneous data in high-level statements. In addition to an overview of Stretch-HARVEST, the talk will describe some of the lesser known aspects of the project the people and institutions involved, the political climate, and the shared knowledge, views, and value systems which were part of this interesting project at an interesting time in the history of computing. "


“She broke the glass ceiling,” her colleague Mark Wegman told the New York Times . “At the time, no one even thought someone like her could achieve what she achieved.”

i’m beginning to hate this phrase, glass ceiling.

women have been writing code, designing and developing key systems and methodologies since before day 1.

they’re not “breaking through” anything, they’ve always been there. men just seem to keep forgetting that fact.

i was recently reading a paper on software architecture – so many men cited, and no women despite clear contributions. the men cite the men, and women’s names quickly fall out of the common citation pool.

wait! there are women in computer science, who knew? again, and again.

it almost feels like at this point men should be going deliberately out of the way to include women’s contributions in their papers – like don’t finish your citations until at least one woman is one there.

i dont read many papers these days, but still… i think i’m going to have to start making ( or find ) a list of papers by notable women to make sure i’m at least reading some…


That’s the glass ceiling, structural barriers to their recognition and acknowledgement, not to their achievement. Until you mentioned it, it hadn’t occurred to me that anyone might interpret the term as referring to their achievements or abilities. AFAIK it’s a term coined specifically to refer to the artificial barriers against their career advancement.

Honestly, probably something we should all consciously try to do.


to me, the term glass ceiling says that there’s a barrier above which a woman can’t climb, and that once it’s broken it’s shattered. neither one of those attributes match the issue.

in my view the issue is a locked door to entry, with a copy of the keys in basement filing cabinet protected not by a sign, but an actual leopard. and, really there are a lot of locked doors and secret handshakes along the way.

there are continual barriers that have to be overcome each and every time. unfortunately, not something to be heroically shattered but something to be endlessly endured… until people ( mainly men ) stop closing ( and guarding ) the doors



Programming pioneer Fran Allen dies aged 88 after a career of immense contributions to compilers

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