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“That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”. That man's first step was possible thanks to the work of several women. One of them is Margaret Hamilton, responsible for the Apollo software that took us to the moon. 👱‍♀️💻🚀🌕
Thread about her. #WomensHistoryMonth
Margaret Hamilton was born in Indiana in 1936. She loved maths since she was a kid. She liked being able to derive the answers, because she didn't want to memorize. She said she was too lazy. At 22 she got her maths undergrad degree and planned to do a PhD in abstract maths.
When she got married she decided to postpone graduate school to work while his husband attended Law School.
She found a job as a programmer at MIT even though she didn't know how to code. These were pioneering times: she learned on her own. Computing wasn’t taught back then.
At MIT, she worked for Edward Lorenz, pioneer of chaos theory (does the butterfly effect ring a bell?) Hamilton developed software to predict the weather, something completely groundbreaking (it was 1958). She even developed her own mini-operating system to run her applications.
In 1964, Hamilton heard the news that NASA needed software for “sending a man” to the moon. It sounded like the opportunity of a lifetime. Within hours, she had set up interviews and she was offered a position on the same day. She was the first programmer hired for the team.
She was 27 and considered a beginner programmer. As more people came on board, the more she became an "expert" and rose up through the ranks. Eventually she became the lead programmer of the Apollo Software Team (or "programming leader", as her colleagues would call her).
Her colleagues were mostly men but she always felt like “one of the guys”. A difference: she was the only one taking her kid to the lab during nights & weekends. Both of them spent hours in the simulation module. Hamilton, testing the software. Her daughter, playing astronaut 👩‍🚀
For Hamilton, “The greatest challenge was that our software had to be man-rated: lives were at stake. Failure was not an option. Not only did it have to work; it had to work the first time. The software had to be ultra-reliable. It did not disappoint.”
Right before Apollo 11 was about to land on the moon, the software overrode operations to let the astronauts know something was wrong. It wasn't only warning about a hardware problem, but also compensating for it. NASA trusted the software and gave Apollo the go for landing 🚀🌕
Hamilton fought for software to be be taken seriously and she coined the term “software engineering”. Some colleagues thought it was a joke: back then, software was not taken seriously compared to hardware design. Her work helped to give software legitimacy.
She contributed also software for Skylab, the first American space station, and to the space shuttle. In 1976 she left NASA to co-found a software company, where she created systems to make software safer and more bug-free. In 1986, she became the founder of Hamilton Technologies
Margaret Hamilton's most iconic photo was taken at MIT during the Apollo 11 mission, with her standing next to a stack of the code developed by her and her team.
This code is public now and can be read (along with several jokes from the team) at… 💻
On 2016 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work leading the development of on-board flight software for NASA's Apollo missions. During the award ceremony, Obama said Hamilton represents “that generation of unsung women who helped send humankind into space.”
Margaret Hamilton is now 82 years old and she keeps giving talks and... her sense of humor. In this pic, she posed with a LEGO minifigure of her.
It is part of the @LegoNASAWomen set created by @20tauri
To find out more, you can watch several interviews at @MAKERSwomen:…
Talk by Margaret Hamilton looking into the last 50 years of #SoftwareEngineering at the 40th International Conference on Software Engineering, last year (she is 82 years old!):
If you want to read more about Margaret Hamilton, some recommendations:
"What to know about the scientist who invented the term software engineering" by @ieeesoftware
And this article published in @WIRED about Hamilton's story 🖥🚀🌙
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