If Discrimination, Then Branch: Ann Hardy's Contributions to Computing

Ann Hardy pictured in the mid-1950s when she began her career in software.

Ann Hardy pictured in the mid-1950s when she began her career in software.

In the realm of software, a “branch” is a computer instruction that causes a shift from the default pattern of activity to a different sequence of actions, a different way of moving ahead if you will. For Ann Hardy, a pioneer in timesharing software and business, her contributions to computing—detailed in her recent oral history with the Software History Center—were achieved through repeated, creative branching in the face of sexist discrimination. A serious challenge came in the early 1950s as an undergraduate: Despite her interest, she was not allowed to major in chemistry. That was for men only. Hardy branched. The physical therapy major allowed her to take all of the chemistry and technical classes she wanted.

In the mid-1950s, at the suggestion of a childhood friend and fellow mathematics lover, Hardy stopped by IBM’s offices at 57th and Madison Avenue in Manhattan and took a computer programming aptitude test. Passing with flying colors, she took a six-week course and aced the final exam. The top 10 percent of the class was promised a job in sales, the pinnacle of IBM, but upper management eventually decided this could not apply to women. Hardy branched. She became an IBM programmer instead, making important contributions to the software for the Stretch supercomputer. Stretch led to a job at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where Hardy first experienced the then novel timesharing approach to computing. Thrilled by the possibilities of interactive computing, in 1966 she convinced a pioneering startup in the field, Tymshare, to hire her to write their timesharing operating system. They did.

To learn about further branchings by Ann Hardy in her rise to an executive at Tymshare and then to a cofounder of a secure-computing firm, read her oral history on the CHM website or watch her oral history on our YouTube channel.

“If Discrimination, Then Branch: Ann Hardy's Contributions to Computing” was published in the Computer History Museum’s 2018 issue of Core magazine.

Oral History of Ann Hardy, Session 1

Oral History of Ann Hardy, Session 1, interviewed by David C. Brock, Hansen Hsu, and Marc Weber on February 20, 2018. Collection of the Computer History Museum, X7849.2017. Full transcript.

Session 1, Part 1

Session 1, Part 2

Oral History Ann Hardy, Session 2

Oral History of Ann Hardy, Session 2, interviewed by David C. Brock, Hansen Hsu, and Marc Weber on July 22, 2018. Collection of the Computer History Museum, X7849.2017. Full transcript.

ABOUT David Brock

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David C. Brock is an historian of technology, and Director of the Software History Center at the Computer History Museum. He focuses on histories of computing, electronics and instrumentation, as well as on oral history. Brock’s work in the history of semiconductor electronics includes Thackray, Brock and Jones, Moore’s Law: The Life of Gordon Moore, Silicon Valley’s Quiet Revolutionary (Basic Books, 2015); Lécuyer and Brock, Makers of the Microchip: A Documentary History of Fairchild Semiconductor (MIT Press, 2010); and Brock (ed.) Understanding Moore’s Law (CHF, 2005). He has served as a writer and executive-producer for several recent documentary shorts and hour-long television documentaries, including Moore’s Law at 50; Scientists You Must Know; Gordon Moore; and Arnold O. Beckman. Brock is on Twitter @dcbrock

Read all posts by David Brock