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Margaret Hamilton, the Engineer Who Took Apollo to the Moon

The name Margaret Hamilton may make you think of the actress who portrayed the Wicked Witch of the West, but this Margaret Hamilton is the software engineer who kept the Apollo 11 mission on track to the moon. The photo above was taken in 1969 and shows Hamilton with the mission software. In a recent interview, Hamilton tells us about her role at NASA, a little about women in programming, and how she coined the term “software engineer.”

Software during the early days of this project was treated like a stepchild and not taken as seriously as other engineering disciplines, such as hardware engineering; and it was regarded as an art and as magic, not a science. I had always believed that both art and science were involved in its creation, but at that time most thought otherwise. Knowing this, I fought to bring the software legitimacy so that it (and those building it) would be given its due respect and thus I began to use the term “software engineering” to distinguish it from hardware and other kinds of engineering; yet, treat each type of engineering as part of the overall systems engineering process. When I first started using this phrase, it was considered to be quite amusing. It was an ongoing joke for a long time. They liked to kid me about my radical ideas. Software eventually and necessarily gained the same respect as any other discipline.

Since 1986, Hamilton has headed her own software company. Read the rest of the interview at Medium.

(Image credit: NASA)


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