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Frances Allen, Who Helped Hardware Understand Software, Dies at 88

  • August 08, 2020

The result, several decades on, was modern computer programming. Programmers can now build smartphone apps, like Facebook, that respond to the touch without delay, delivered from vast computer data centers spanning tens of thousands of computers.

Ms. Allen’s work plays into “pretty much every software system anyone uses: every app, every website, every video game or communication system, every government or bank computer, every onboard computer in a car or aircraft,” said Graydon Hoare, creator of a programming language called Rust.

“Without good compilers,” he added, “the whole world of software would be much slower, costlier, more error-prone, less capable.”

Ms. Allen’s marriage to Jacob Schwartz, a computer science professor at New York University and one of her collaborators on compiler research, ended in divorce. She is survived by two brothers, Phillip and James, and her sister, Catherine McKee.

In a field long dominated by men, Ms. Allen was a force for change. In the 1970s and ’80s, thanks largely to her own efforts, women accounted for half of the experimental compiler group inside IBM.

“One the many things Fran did was attract women to her field,” said Jeanne Ferrante, who worked alongside Ms. Allen for more than a decade. “She looked out for the people who were underrepresented.”

In 1989 she became the first female IBM fellow, a rare honor bestowed on the company’s leading engineers, scientists and programmers. But when she received her award at an IBM retreat in Southern California, the company identified her as a man. (“In recognition and appreciation of his outstanding technical contributions …”)

The award — including the mistake — remained on her office wall until she retired in 2002.

“She broke the glass ceiling,” said Mark Wegman, another IBM fellow, who worked with Ms. Allen for decades. “At the time, no one even thought someone like her could achieve what she achieved.”

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/08/technology/frances-allen-dead.html

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