Working on ENIAC: The Lost Labors of the Information Age

The largest part of the ENIAC team by far were the peo­ple that were actu­ally build­ing the thing. And it’s inter­est­ing they’ve been for­got­ten by his­tory, because although their job titles were wire­men, tech­ni­cians, and assem­blers, being a busi­ness his­to­rian I looked up the account­ing records, and some­times they spell out the pay­roll. You sud­denly see all these women’s names like Ruth, Jane, Alice, Dorothy, Caroline, Eleanor show­ing up.

Kay Mauchly on Finding Out about ENIAC, Programming It, and Marrying John Mauchly

Then we were told we had to learn how to oper­ate this machine. Well, how do you go about that? And some­body from Moore School gave us a whole stack of blue­prints, and these were the wiring dia­grams for all the pan­els. And they said, Here, you can fig­ure out how the machine works and then fig­ure out how to pro­gram it.”

ENIAC Programmers Keynote at WITI New York Network Meeting 1998

I applied and went over and they just talked to us a lit­tle bit. We nev­er saw the machine or any­thing. So then they called us in and Herman Goldstine, who was the Army offi­cer liai­son com­ing in from Aberdeen, inter­viewed me. So Herman said to me, What do you think of elec­tric­i­ty?”

So I said, Well, I had a physics course and I knew that E=IR.”

So he said, No, I don’t mean that. I don’t care about that. Are you afraid of it?”

Fran Allen Keynote, Grace Hopper Celebration 2008

What I believe is that com­put­er sci­ence emerged as a sci­ence, as a pro­fes­sion, with all the require­ments on what pro­fes­sion­al stan­dards and require­ments of what one need­ed to know to get a job in the field. […] In that peri­od, then, cre­den­tials were estab­lished, and by the ear­ly 70s things had real­ly changed for women, at least in my envi­ron­ment, and most oth­er groups that I’ve talked to about this the­o­ry absolute­ly agree that that was where there was a sig­nif­i­cant shift.

The Platonic Network

I want­ed to give you a lit­tle bit of per­spec­tive on Otlet’s broad­er vision, which I think is in a way even more inter­est­ing as a ref­er­ence point for think­ing about some of the changes we’re see­ing today as our lives are increas­ing­ly reshaped by tech­nol­o­gy and net­works. What Otlet offers is a dif­fer­ent way into that space, and a dif­fer­ent way of think­ing about what a net­worked world could look like.