Sep 09

One of my favorite movies in 2014 was The Imitation Game based on the role University of Cambridge mathematician Alan Turing played in cracking the Nazi’s secret “Enigma” code during World War II. Against all odds, Turing’s “Colossus” machine, a precursor to today’s modern computers, helped the Allies change the course of history.

So it was very fitting that this Dearly Departed post is Frances Allen, a former high school math teacher who joined IBM’s research team in 1957, and in her own way, changed the course of history in a male-dominated industry and became the first woman honored with the Association for Computing Machinery’s A.M. Turing Award.

The 45-year IBM employee was a true pioneer. Ms. Allen was involved in optimizing compilers, programs that translate computer languages that people understand into something that makes sense to machines. Like Turing, she was also a code breaker. She helped design software for the Unites States’ National Security Agency. She also took part in IBM’s efforts to develop super computers. Through it all, she encouraged other women to join her in the computing field and championed their advancement.

For me, what makes her accomplishments even more remarkable are her humble roots. Francis Allen was born August 4, 1932, the oldest of six children. She grew up on a dairy farm in Peru, New York, a tiny community in the northeastern part of the state. I am sure computing was the furthest thing from her mind when tending to the cows!

Ms. Allen attended college and earned a math degree. Her first exposure to computing came when earning a master’s degree in mathematics at the University of Michigan. To pay offer her college debt, she took a temporary job—or so she thought—with IBM. The rest is history. Ms. Allen left this world on August 4, 2020, her 88th birthday. She was and remains an inspiration for every person who wants to make their own way in life rather than let life define them. Learn more about this Dearly Departed here>

Dearly Departed profiles are the musings of SC Innovates’ Director and SmartState Endowed Chair Laura B. Cardinal. Dr. Cardinal is the creator of two courses in Strategic Management of Technology + Innovation: SMTI I, which fuses innovation with business strategy, and SMTI II, which fuses innovation and science with business strategy. Both are offered through the UofSC Darla Moore School of Business Professional MBA Program.

Laura B. Cardinal, PhD