Frances Allen, an IBM researcher, just became the first female winner of the A.M. Turing Award, computing’s Nobel Prize. The prize was announced today and will be presented at an Association for Computing Machinery event in June.
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.
She went on to become an expert in compilers and high-performance systems, advancing technology used for tasks such as DNA matching and weather forecasting.
“Fran Allen’s work has led to remarkable advances in compiler design and machine architecture that are at the foundation of modern high-performance computing,” Ruzena Bajcsy, a University of California, Berkeley professor and chair of the ACM Turing Award committee, said in the release.
“Her contributions have spanned most of the history of computer science, and have made possible computing techniques that we rely on today in business and technology. It is interesting to note Allen’s role in highly secret intelligence work on security codes for the organization now known as the National Security Agency, since it was Alan Turing, the namesake of this prestigious award, who devised techniques to help break the German codes during World War II.”
The award cited her “pioneering contributions to the theory and practice of optimizing compiler techniques that laid the foundation for modern optimizing compilers and automatic parallel execution.”
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.