Female Tech Pioneers Honored with Presidential Medal of Freedom

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Two of technology's leading ladies this week were granted the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Software engineer Margaret Hamilton and computer scientist Grace Hopper were among 21 recipients of the nation's highest honor, presented by President Obama at the White House.

"Three minutes before [Neil] Armstrong and [Buzz] Aldrin touched down on the moon, Apollo 11's lunar landing alarms triggered," Obama said during Tuesday's ceremony. "Our astronauts didn't have much time. But thankfully they had Margaret Hamilton."

A computer scientist, systems engineer, business owner, and working mom in the 1960s, Hamilton served as director of the Software Engineering Division of the MIT Instrumentation Lab, which developed on-board flight software for the Apollo space program.

"Keep in mind that at this time, software engineering wasn't even a field yet; there were no textbooks to call on," Obama pointed out. "So, as Margaret says, 'there was no choice but to be pioneers.'"

"Luckily for us, Margaret never stopped pioneering," he continued. "She symbolizes that generation of unsung women who helped send humankind into space."

Hamilton went on to become the founder and CEO of Higher Order Software, and later created Hamilton Technologies in Cambridge, Mass.

"Her software architecture echoes in countless technologies today, and her example speaks of the American spirit of discovery that exists in every little girl and little boy, who know that somehow, to look beyond the heavens is to look deep within ourselves and figure out just what is possible," Obama said.

The President also honored the late Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (pictured), who earned a posthumous Medal of Freedom for her pioneering work.

The first lady of software died on New Year's Day 1992, after what Obama called a "long and storied career," which included a stint in the Navy, work on one of the first computers (the Harvard Mark I), and the invention of the first compiler, which helped make coding languages more practical and accessible.

"She saw beyond the boundaries of the possible and invented the first compiler," Obama said. "From cell phones to cyber command, we can thank Grace Hopper for opening programming to millions more people, helping to usher in the information age, and profoundly shaping our digital world."

This year's 21 Medal of Freedom recipients run the gamut, from scientists, philanthropists, and public servants to activists, athletes, and artists, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Ellen DeGeneres, Robert De Niro, Bill and Melinda Gates, Frank Gehry, Tom Hanks, Michael Jordan, Lorne Michaels, Robert Redford, Diana Ross, Bruce Springsteen, and Cicely Tyson.

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