Sorry to bug you

Why is a mistake in a computer program called a ‘bug’? It was popularised by Grace Hopper in 1947, after an error while testing an early computer was caused by a moth trapped inside!

Grace was extremely important in early computing, because she made programming easier. The first programs were in ‘machine code, made of the simplest instructions a computer can follow. This is like giving directions in the street by saying exactly where to put your feet!

Her innovation was a ‘compiler’, a special program which means you can write in a simpler language—like saying walk up the street and turn left’—which the compiler then turns into the really detailed machine code. Grace’s work led to a popular early programming language called COBOL.

Programming is now easier, but programmers still need to carefully test and debug their code… because if they make a mistake, they can’t blame a moth!

Lesson from the past: Programmers still make mistakes, even though it’s easier than it was

More history

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