Jean Sammet- Women in Computing

Jean E. Sammet, born on March 23 1928 in New York was a successful programmer who developed the FORMAC programming language in 1962 and was one of the developers of the influential COBOL programming language. She received a B.A. in Mathematics in 1948, her M.A. in 1949 and finally her Doctorate in 1978.

Sammet started work in the computer field at Sperry Gyroscope in 1955 and supervised the company’s first scientific programming group. She also taught graduate courses in programming at Adelphi College from 1956 to 1958.

In 1961 she joined IBM where she developed FORMAC, the widely used computer language for the symbolic manipulation of mathematical formulas. At IBM she researched the use of restricted English as a programming language and the use of natural language for mathematical programs. She became Programming Technology Planning Manager for the Federal Systems Divisions from 1968 to 1974, and was appointed Software Technology Manager in 1979.

Sammet was the founder of the ACM Special Interest Committee on Symbolic and Algebraic Manipulation (SICSAM) in 1965 and was chair of the Special Interest Group on Programming Languages (SIGPLAN). She was the first female president of the ACM, from 1974 to 1976.

Her contributions to mathematics became so significant, that they would echo through the ages and help shape science and technology for centuries to come. FORMAC was the first algebra system that used general language and a system for manipulating non-numeric algebraic expressions. It is essential to remember those astonishing accomplishments and understand how they have shaped our future.


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