Jean Bartik was the last surviving member of the original programming team for the ENIAC, the first general-purpose electronic computer. But that understates her work. Bartik, the only female math graduate in her 1945 college class, was hired to make the physical connections that let the ENIAC perform artillery calculations, and she served as a lead programmer on the project. But Bartik also developed circuit logic and did design work under the direction of ENIAC's hardware developer, J. Presper Eckert.
After ENIAC, Bartik followed Eckert to work on both hardware and software for the commercial Univac I mainframe and the specialized BINAC (Binary Automatic Computer). But once the Univac was complete, Bartik retired at age 26 in 1951 to raise a family. She returned to a much-changed IT industry in 1967 and worked as an editor at several analyst companies until she was laid off in 1985, when she was in her 60s.
Jack Keil Wolf
Disk Drivin' Man
February 1926 - February 2011
There's a reason why the amount of information we can store on hard disks keeps growing -- and its name is Jack Wolf. That may be an overstatement, but it's not too much to say that Wolf did more than almost anyone else to use math to cram more data into magnetic drives, flash memory and electronic communications channels.
Wolf began his professional life as an information theorist, teaching and working at RCA and Bell Labs, with much of his work relating to compressing information. But in 1984, he moved to the new Center for Magnetic Recording Research at the University of California, San Diego. "I knew nothing about magnetic recording," he admitted in a 2010 lecture. "Not only did I not know how to spell coercivity, but the first time I mentioned it in a talk I mispronounced it. But UCSD reluctantly made me an offer as the first faculty member in CMRR."
It was a good choice. Wolf and his students, dubbed the "Wolf pack," cross-pollinated magnetic drive design with information theory, applying compression in increasingly creative ways, and spread Wolf's ideas throughout the industry.
June 1925 - September 2011
Silicon Valley had many builders, but one of them literally built some of the high-tech hub's first silicon-making machines. Julius Blank was one of the "Traitorous Eight" engineers who founded Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957. He and his seven colleagues had acquired that unflattering sobriquet because they decided to strike out on their own just a year after Nobel Prize-winning physicist William Shockley had recruited them to create a new kind of transistor at Shockley Labs.