IBM "woman fellow" aces Turing test (and

It's Thursday's IT Blogwatch: in which IBM's Frances Allen becomes the first female recipient of the ACM's Turing Award. Not to mention Øystein Bache and Rune Gokstad's take on the helpdesks of old...

Life gave us Sumner Lemon: [you're fired -Ed.]

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) has awarded the A.M. Turing Award to Frances Allen, a computer scientist at IBM. She is the first woman to receive the prestigious prize. Allen, a fellow emerita at IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center, was given the award for her contributions in the area of program optimization, a way of modifying a program to run more efficiently and improve performance. The award is named after the British mathematician A.M. Turing and includes a $100,000 prize.

In particular, the ACM cited Allen's work in automatic program parallelization, which allows programs to use multiple processors to improve speed. The group said her efforts "contributed to advances in the use of high-performance computers for solving problems [in areas] such as weather forecasting, DNA matching and national security." The group will present the award to Allen at a ceremony in June.

Nick Farrell adds:

She joined IBM in 1957 in the days when Big Blue recruited women by circulating a brochure on campuses that was titled "My Fair Ladies."

Her early work involved replicating Fortran on other types of computer. Later she would pen intelligence analysis software for the National Security Agency and design software for IBM's Blue Gene supercomputer. Since she retired in 2002 she has been involved in many different education programmes that try to attract women into the industry.

Joyce Carpenter has video:

IBM has an interview with Allen as part of its Oral History project. Two minutes spent watching and listening to Allen talk about problem solving might do more to interest students in engineering than most things I can think of.

Her summary of engineering: "There are many, many aspects of what an engineer or a scientist does, but it all boils down to finding problems, solving problems and getting results." But you have to see the contagious smile that goes with that simple claim to get the full impact. "But the really great thing about engineering and science are the colleagues one has." Who knew?

A hierodule of Baphomet cheers:

Yay! About time! ... I wonder if the significant contributions to computing made by Lynn Conway will ever be recognised with some sort of award? Or will her transsexuality make that politically untenable?

That Charlie Anders; she's such a geek:

Rock on! Retired IBM programmer Frances E. Allen was the first woman to win the prestigious Turing Award, worth $100,000. When she joined IBM in 1957, the company was trying to recruit women on college campuses by circulating a brochure called “My Fair Ladies.” She joined right after John Backus’ team had just developed Fortran. Allen developed techniques to optimize the performance of compilers ... it’s taken 40 years for a woman to receive the honor.

Brier Dudley waves his pom-poms:

Go Frances! ... Allen has an amazing story. In 1957 she was a math teacher who needed to pay off her college debt, so she started working at IBM, teaching the FORTRAN language to researchers ... Allen's also an environmentalist and mountain climber who has gone on exploratory expeditions to the Arctic and the border between China and Tibet, according to her IBM biography. She became the first woman named an IBM Fellow in 1989, and in 2004 won the first Anita Borg Award for working to increase the participation of women in the tech industry.

Chris Petrilli muses:

There aren’t enough women in technology. I think this is plainly true to anyone who exists, or even interacts, with that sphere of the world. When I was at BBN, we had a huge number of female engineers—enough that it was actually very obvious—and my current employer has a much higher number than is normal for the industry. That’s why I’m glad to see this story.


More information on Ms. Allen can be found on IBM’s website. Like so many who have made such a gigantic contribution to the field, she’s often not at the tip of anyone’s tongue, but she, along with so many others, should be.

Kurt Van Etten's surprised:

I hadn't thought about it before, but I'm surprised that this is only the first time a woman has received the Turing Award. I would have expected that Grace Hopper, for one, would have been a recipient, but perhaps she passed away before the opportunity came up. Past Turing Award winners can be found here. The Turing Award will be presented to Allen at a ceremony in June. I'm sure that her Turing lecture will be much more edifying than the previous recipient's.

Here's Kimberly Blessing, in congratulatory mood:

Congratulations, Fran! (See my pictures of Fran at GHC 2004.)

I love how [USA Today] confronts the hype around girls and women not being suited for math and science — head on ... I remember first learning about Fran Allen, back when I was an undergrad. (Deepak encouraged us to learn about the history of computer science and, in particular, about the role of women in its history.) Ever since, she’s been a role model to me, and I know she’s been a role model and mentor to many other women as well. I’m so excited for her to receive this award, not only because it acknowledges her valuable contributions and dedication to the field, but also because it will make her story better known to scores of people (especially young women) considering a career in computing.

Buffer overflow:

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And finally... Norwegian helpdesk joke

Richi Jennings is an independent technology and marketing consultant, specializing in email, blogging, Linux, and computer security. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. Contact Richi at

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