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Frances Allen

2000 Fellow

For her contributions to program optimization and compiling for parallel computers.

All the things I do are of a piece. I'm exploring the edges, finding new ways of doing things. It keeps me very, very engaged. —Frances Allen


Biography

Close-up IBM 7030 ("Stretch") operator console, 1961
Close-up IBM 7030 ("Stretch") operator console, 1961 © Mark Richards

Frances Allen was born in Plattsburg, New York, in 1932. She holds a B.S. in mathematics (1954) from Albany State Teacher's College, and an M.S., also in mathematics (1957), from the University of Michigan. She holds several honorary doctorates in science.

Allen is a pioneer in the field of optimizing compilers, programs that translate source code written in a programming language into machine code for direct use by a computer. Her specialty is the development of advanced compilers for making such computers work faster and more efficiently.

Allen began her career at a small rural high school in Peru, New York, teaching practical math to farm kids, then took a job at IBM in order to earn the money she needed to pay off her college loans. She had planned to work there for a couple of years and then return to her first love-teaching-but at IBM, she found something she loved even more, "great people." She would stay at IBM for the next 45 years, making dozens of important and original contributions to computer science.

In 1989, she became the first woman to be named an IBM Fellow and, in 2006, received the ACM Turing Award.