A pioneer in the world of computing, Frances “Fran” Allen was the first female IBM Fellow and the first woman to win the Turing Award. Her work on inter-procedural analysis and automatic parallelisation continues to this day to be at the leading edge of complier research.
A teacher, mentor, and scientist are just a few words used to describe Frances Allen and she remains an inspiration to many young people within the tech industry, particularly women.
Her passion and enthusiasm for computing was infectious and her work helped pave the way for women in the industry. It’s for this and many other reasons that we consider her a Claritas #Techspiration, lets take a look.
- Frances Allen was born on 4th August 1932 in Peru, New York. She died on 4th August 2020 (aged 88)
- She graduated from The New York State College for Teachers with a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics in 1954
- Allen began teaching school in 1957, after two years she enrolled at the University of Michigan earning a Master of Science degree in mathematics
- Allen joined IBM Research as a programmer in 1957 and her first task was to teach new employees the basics of FORTRAN (a new complex language by IBM). She planned on returning to teaching once her student loans had been paid but worked her entire 45-year career for IBM
- In 1959, she was assigned to the HARVEST project for code breaking alongside the National Security Agency, and helped design and build a programming language called Alpha
- Allen managed the compiler-optimisation team for both the HARVEST and the STRETCH projects
- In 1962, she transferred to Thomas J. Watson Research Center, where she contributed to the ACS-1 (supercomputer) project and in 1970s to PL/I (Programming Language One). During this time, she wrote a series of seminal papers on optimising compilers, which helped improve the efficiency of machine code translated from high-level languages
- From 1980 to 1995, Allen led IBM’s work in the developing parallel computing area and helped develop software for the IBM Blue Gene Project
- In 1989, she proudly became the first female IBM Fellow
- She retired from IBM in 2002, but she remained affiliated as a Fellow Emerita. In 2007, the IBM Ph.D. Fellowship Award was created in her honour
- After retirement, she remained active in programs that encourage women and girls to seek careers in science and computing.
What makes her great?
Her innovation and determination are what we think make Frances Allen great. Her expertise regarding compilers for high-performance computing and her contributions to the computing field were ground-breaking. And the support she offered those she worked with, particularly women, was something she’ll most certainly be remembered for.
For many women in the tech industry, she was an inspiration, a mentor, who was proof that women could succeed in the industry.
Her publications on optimisation, intraprocedural analysis and automatic parallelisation have been instrumental to science and practice of computing and many of her developments paved the way for the new technology of today.
Why she’s a ‘techspiration’ to Claritas
Frances Allen is a great inspiration for us because of her pure intellect in the world of science and computing. She pioneered contributions to the theory and practice of optimising compiler techniques that laid the foundation for modern optimising compilers and automatic parallel execution.
We admire her commitment to her team, as well as her drive to inspire and motivate young people, particularly women, to follow in her footsteps.
She dedicated her life working to advance the field of computing and pioneering new breakthroughs, and for this we are extremely grateful.
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