Sad News: Computing Pioneer Frances “Fran” Allen died in August 2020

Frances “Fran” Allen, a pioneer in the world of computing, the first female IBM Fellow and the first woman to win the Turing Award, died on August 4, 2020, the day of her 88th birthday.

As a pioneer in compiler organization and optimization algorithms, Fran made seminal contributions to the world of computing. Her work on inter-procedural analysis and automatic parallelization continues to be on the leading edge of compiler research. She successfully reduced this science to practice through the transfer of this technology to products such as the STRETCH HARVEST Compiler, the COBOL Compiler, and the Parallel FORTRAN Product.

Following FORTRAN, Fran became one of three designers for IBM’s Stretch-Harvest project in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. As the language liaison with IBM’s client, the National Security Agency (NSA), Fran helped design and build Alpha, a very high-level code breaking language which featured the ability to create new alphabets beyond the system defined alphabets.

In addition to the Turing Award, Fran was awarded with scores of accolades and honors. Earlier this year, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) announced it will honor Fran with the IEEE Frances E. Allen Medal, to be awarded for the first time at the IEEE Honors Ceremony in 2022. IBM was instrumental in working with IEEE to create the medal in her honor. Fran would join dozens of other science luminaries who have been honored with eponymous IEEE Medals, IEEE’s highest level of awards. “Professionally, Fran spent a lifetime working to advance the field of computing and pioneer new breakthroughs. Personally, she was equally focused on inspiring and motivating young people – especially women – to do the same,” said Fran’s nephew, Ryan McKee, on the IEEE honor.

In addition, Fran was a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 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.

(This material has been extracted from the blog: Remembering Frances E. Allen.

Read the full blog here:

In 2011, Fran Allen presented the inaugural BCS Karen Spärck Jones Lecture.

Here is an short account written by Dr Hannah Dee who attended the lecture:

“The Karen Spärck Jones lecture was also good fun – given by the inimitable Fran Allen of IBM, it covered some early work in text processing. The question & answer sessions was particularly enlightening. Due to a health and safety scare at BCS Southampton Street involving large panes of glass falling in the atrium (!) this event had been moved to the IET on Savoy Place, a much more impressive venue, so we drank free wine on the balcony overlooking the Thames.”