After earning a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1961 from the University of California, Berkeley, Barbara Liskov applied to graduate school at Princeton University. In response to her application, Liskov received a form letter informing her the school didn’t accept female students.

But the “little postcard” that “astounded” a “naïve” Liskov, as she told the MIT Technology Review in 2009, did not deter her. She went on to build a career as a pioneering computer scientist, and her work has been recognized with some of the industry’s highest honors, including the 2008 A.M. Turing Award, considered the “Nobel Prize of computing.”

Barbara Liskov leads development of CLU programming language

Born Nov. 7, 1939, in California, Liskov started a job at the Mitre Corporation following her initial graduate school rejection. While at Mitre, she uncovered her aptitude for computer programming, moving on to Harvard to translate human language into computer language. She then returned to California as a PhD student at Stanford University, becoming one of the first women to earn a PhD in computer science in 1968. Her thesis was on chess endgames.

In 1972, she joined the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she is today an Institute Professor and head of the Programming Methodology Group at the MIT Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Lab. Under her leadership at MIT, a team developed the CLU programming language—the first programming language that did not rely on go-to statements, instead relying on Liskov’s brainchild, data abstraction, to organize code into modules. CLU laid the foundation for modern programming languages including Java, C++, and C#.

In addition to the Turing Award, Liskov was named one of the 50 most important women in science in 2003 by Discover Magazine.

Photo: Dennis Hamilton / Flickr (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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