Computer scientist Frances Allen, known for her work on compilation, dies at 88


Frances Allen, whose work on computer compilation helped lay the foundations for much of modern computer programming, died on August 4, her 88th birthday. She was the first woman to win the Turing Prize and the first female IBM scholar. Allen was determined to make the tedious compilation process – converting software to ones and zeros – more efficient. Work has become a hallmark of his career.

After earning a master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Michigan, Allen took a job at IBM Research in Poughkeepsie, NY, in 1957, intending to stay until she paid off her student loan debt. . She taught IBM employees the basics of her new Fortran language, later becoming one of three designers of the company’s Stretch-Harvest project.

Allen also served as IBM’s linguistic liaison with the National Security Agency, where she helped design and build Alpha, which IBM describes as “a very high-level code breaking language that offered possibility of creating new alphabets beyond the alphabets defined by the system. ” Le New York Times Allen’s obituary notes that the Stretch-Harvest machine was used to analyze communications intercepted by American spies. Allen helped build his compiler and programming language.

In a 2002 New York Times Profile, Allen said there was a lot of initial skepticism about Fortran and its effectiveness in making computer programming easier and more efficient, which was one of the main goals of his career. “There was enormous resistance,” she said. “They were convinced that no higher level language could do as good a job as possible in assembly. But the work sparked her interest in compilation, she later said, “because it was organized in a way that has a legacy to modern compilers.” “

Allen helped build an experimental compiler for IBM’s advanced computing system, and from the 1980s to the mid-1990s she led a research team at IBM working on the new concept of parallel computing, which became widely used. in personal computers. She also helped develop software for IBM’s Blue Gene supercomputer project.

IBM said in an appraisal that Allen has made fundamental contributions to programming and research on compilers. She has also published several articles on program optimization, control flow analysis, and in 1972 co-authored “A Catalog of Optimizing Transformations” with her IBM IT colleague John Cocke.

Allen spent 45 years at IBM before retiring in 2002. She received the Turing Award in 2006. A strong supporter of mentoring other women in programming, Allen was inducted into the International Women in Technology Hall of Fame. and received the Augusta Ada Lovelace Award from the Association for Women in Computer Science, according to IBM.

“She broke the glass ceiling,” her colleague Mark Wegman told the New York Times. “Back then, no one even thought that someone like her could achieve what she had accomplished.”


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