Mary Lee Woods Berners-Lee, early British computer programmer

Mary Lee and Conway Berners-Lee in 1954. Source: British Library

Mary Lee Woods Berners-Lee (1924-2017) was a British mathematician and computer scientist. After graduating at the University of Birmingham, she got a fellowship at the Mount Stromlo Observatory in Canberra. Back from Australia, in 1951 she started working for Ferranti as a programmer, in the Ferranti Mark I and I* team at the University of Manchester.

Mary Lee Woods was a champion of women rights almost twenty years before the 1970’s Equal Pay Act. When the female programmers at Ferranti discovered that their male colleagues were being paid more than they were for the same work, she led a successful campaign at Ferranti for equal pay for programmers.

In 1953 she met Conway Berners-Lee, a colleague working at Ferranti. They eventually married. Tim Berners-Lee, 2016 ACM Turing Prize winner and inventor of the World Wide Web, is their eldest son.

Mary Lee Woods Berners-Lee died on November 29th 2017, aged 93.

Read the obituaries by The Times  and by The Guardian.

Ferranti Mark I (1950). Source: Computer History Museum

Janet Abbate interviewed Mary Lee Woods in 2001 for the IEEE history center. The transcript of the oral history is available here.

Listen to some excerpts of the interview with Mary Lee Berners-Lee in Voices of Science, a series of oral history interviews with prominent British scientists and engineers, produced by the British Library. The full interview was recorded in several sessions in 2010 and 2011.

Launch of ANR project: What is a program?

It is a pleasure to announce the start of the ANR project What is a (computer) program? with a two days event to be held on February 7-8 at MESH, rooms 1 and 2, Espace Baïetto, 2 Rue des Canonniers, Lille.

On February 7th, there will be a session of the Lille-Paris séminaire History and Philosophy of Computer Science and Computing (HEPIC) with participation of Cliff Jones and Samuel Goyet (see here for more details).
On February 8th, there will be the workshop Models between structures and meanings of programs which introduces the project followed by several talks from members of the project. Continue reading “Launch of ANR project: What is a program?”

Validity and Correctness in LEO I and II

Abstract of the presentation at the roundtable What is a (computer) program? at the prelaunch of the project PROGRAMme in Paris, at the CNAM – Conservatoire national des arts et métiers, on the 20th of October 2017.

The presentation is an historical reconstruction of the procedures to ensure validity and program correctness in the early examples of business computers: the focus of the talk is the hardware testing, data validation and program correctness techniques designed for LEO I and II in the UK during the 1950s. Continue reading “Validity and Correctness in LEO I and II”

Reflections on Identity and Copy of Programs

Abstract of the presentation at the roundtable `What is a (computer) program?’ at the prelaunch of the project PROGRAMme in Paris, at the CNAM – Conservatoire national des arts et métiers, on the 20th of October 2017.

The problem of identity is a long-standing one in philosophy. In turn, it is a crucial one for the Philosophy of Computer Science, and in particular for answering the question ‘what is a program?’. Two major strands in the history of such conceptual investigation can be found. Continue reading “Reflections on Identity and Copy of Programs”

Coping with the “American giants”

Abstract of the paper presented at the 4th HaPoC – History and Philosophy of Computing conference in Brno, 3-7 October 2017.

Coping with the “American giants”: mergers, relationships and attempted partnerships in the European computer industry in the early Sixties

During the 1950s, a fragmented computer industry grew up in Europe. After the enthusiasm and pioneering in a brand new business like computers, at the beginning of the 1960s these companies were weakened by several issues, such as the financial crisis and the pressure of  US competitors like IBM and General Electric. The investments in R&D  were not fully refunded by the income from machines sales after several years. The growth of a computer company, in fact, was often doomed by these costs and very often also by lack of proper marketing experience in a totally brand new field. Continue reading “Coping with the “American giants””

CfP HaPoP4

Fourth Symposium on the History and Philosophy of Programming

23 March 2018, Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford, UK
Colocated with BSHM Meeting on History of Computing, 22 March 2018
Organised by Commission for the History and Philosophy of Computing

Submission of two-page extended abstracts (including footnotes, but excluding references) are invited. Accepted papers will be given a 30 minute presentation slot including discussion. We intend to publish selected papers in a special journal issue following the symposium.

  • Submission deadline: 1 January 2018
  • Author notification: 2 February 2018
  • HaPoP symposium: 23 March 2018

In memory of Peter Bird

Peter Bird, a director of Lyons Computer Services, charted the food company’s pioneering introduction of computers. Source: The Guardian UK

Peter Bird worked for J. Lyons & Co. from 1964 to 1991. He published his book LEO: The First Business Computer in 1994 and later an extensive book about Lyons in 2000.
We met Peter Bird in October 2016 at his house in Wokingham. We had a productive day, discussing about his books on Lyons and LEO. A day full of hints and suggestions, going through his collection of photos of LEO people and machines. Peter passed away on the 16th August 2017. Continue reading “In memory of Peter Bird”