Frances “Fran” Allen, a leading American Computer Scientist, passed away on the 4th of August, her 88th birthday, in Schenectady, N.Y. due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Allen is known for her work on a pioneer in compiler organization and optimization algorithms. The Washington Post reported that her work “helped software designers generate more-powerful and efficient code, which led to huge advances in the use of supercomputers and parallel processing, and eventually in all levels of computing.”
A former high school maths teacher, Allen decided to work at IBM till she paid off her student loans. Ultimately, however, she ended up building a 45-year career there. She started by teaching FORTRAN programming language to IBM research scientists. She later worked on a variety of projects – the Stretch-Harvest project for the National Security Agency; the Blue Gene Project, a supercomputer to help understand how proteins fold into three-dimensional structures and many others.
Allen was named the first female IBM Fellow, the highest honour accorded a technical person in the organization. The IBM also instituted the Frances E. Allen Women in Technology Mentoring Award in 2000, recognizing her efforts in motivating women to pursue careers in science and technology.
Allen was also the first woman to receive the prestigious A.M. Turing Award in 2006, which is considered by many to be the Nobel Prize in Computing. She was a Fellow of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), the IEEE, and the Computer History Museum and has two honorary doctorate degrees as well as several awards for her work for women in computing. She has been inducted into the Women in Technology International (WITI) Hall of Fame and received the Augusta Ada Lovelace Award from the Association for Women in Computing.
She was also an outdoor explorer and hiker and participated in several exploratory expeditions to the Arctic and on the Chinese/Tibet border.