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Jean Sammet

2001 Fellow

For her contributions to the field of programming languages and its history.

From childhood on I hated to throw papers away. As I became an adult this characteristic merged with my interest in computing history. As a result I created important files and documents of my own, and became concerned with having other people publish material on their important work so the facts (rather that the myths) would be known publicly. —Jean Sammet


Biography

Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery (CACM) cover, 1961-01
Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery (CACM) cover, 1961-01

Jean Sammet was born in New York, New York, in 1928. She holds a B.A. in mathematics from Mount Holyoke College (1948), an M.A., also in mathematics, from the University of Illinois (1949), and an honorary doctorate from Mount Holyoke College (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.

From 1958 to 1961, she worked at Sylvania Electric Products and managed the basic software development for MOBIDIC, a computer built for the Army Signal Corps. From 1959 to 1961, she served as a key member of the committee that developed COBOL, which became the standard programming language for business applications around the world.

Sammet joined IBM in 1961 and directed the development of FORMAC, a widely used programming language and system for symbolic mathematics. In 1965, she became programming language technology manager in the IBM systems development division and later led IBM's work on the Ada programming language.

She was president of the ACM from 1972 to 1974 and is a world authority on the history of programming languages. Among other honors, she is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (1977).