Yesterday, the White House announced that President Obama named 21 recipients of the 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom. Of note to our community, the group contained a number of computing pioneers; specifically, Grace Hopper (a posthumous awardee), Bill and Melinda Gates, and Margaret H. Hamilton. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award (along with the Congressional Gold Medal) that the United States bestows, and is awarded to, “any person who has made an especially meritorious contribution to (1) the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Grace Hopper is, of course, a legend within the computer science community. As the White House press release notes, Admiral Hopper’s work, “helped make coding languages more practical and accessible, and she created the first compiler, which translates source code from one language into another.” It’s hard to underestimate the role she played in bringing computing into our society’s everyday world.
Bill and Melinda Gates’ award is more tied to their philanthropic work through their foundation. However, they have not shied away from work within the education sphere (Mr. Gates’ work on CS education is of specific note), and they have worked to, “ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life.”
Finally, Margaret H. Hamilton, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a number of companies that she founded, is being acknowledged for her work leading the team that, “created the on-board flight software for NASA’s Apollo command modules and lunar modules.” A truly remarkable person and a pioneering computer scientist, she also coined the term “software engineering” and made many software advances that, “set the foundation for modern, ultra-reliable software design and engineering.”
It’s great to see computer scientists get such prominent recognition for their life’s work! It makes one wonder how many computer scientists will be in the next generation of national awardees.