Issue #9 - Margaret Hamilton

Welcome to the 9th issue of Heroes of Computer Science! Sorry for the hiatus, moving countries takes a toll and resuming this newsletter kept getting pushed out of my schedule… Finally, the move from London to Lyon is pretty much settled, so we’re back!

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Margaret Hamilton

Margaret Hamilton is an American computer scientist and systems engineer. She is often credited as one of the people that coined the term “software engineering”.

Although Margaret initially intended to study abstract math, she began her career in mid-1959 working in the meteorology department at MIT. A couple of years later, she was involved in a few U.S. Air Force projects that got her a position at NASA for the Apollo flight software.

Back at the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory at MIT, Hamilton led a team responsible with developing the software for the Apollo missions and Skylab. Her multiple areas of expertise in software made her code incredibly reliable, helping programmers identify and fix issues before they became major problems. In 2016 she earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom from president Barack Obama, for her work in the development of on-board flight software for NASA’s Apollo Moon missions.

At a time where software development was not regarded as a science nor was it taken seriously compared to other engineering, Hamilton made tremendous strides in legitimising software development as an engineering discipline. Together with other early programming pioneers like Grace Hopper, she also deserves credit for helping to open the door for more women to enter and succeed in STEM fields.

Further reading

Hamilton has published more than 130 papers, so you might find one that catches your eye. On the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing, The Guardian published an interesting interview with Hamilton and Google made her a moonlit tribute (watch the cool, short video). If you are into biographies, Space Engineer and Scientist Margaret Hamilton is a good place to start, and if you want to inspire a young mind getting into STEM, there is a lovely Margaret and the Moon visual novel!

A brief history of the famous 1969 Margaret Hamilton photo featuring the Apollo software she and her team developed for NASA.