Pioneers in Tech: Adele Goldberg, graphical user interface guru
“Behind every great man is a great woman.” No conversation about the success of Apple would be complete without a nod to the work of Adele Goldberg, a computer scientist and early pioneer in the world of graphical user interfaces (GUIs). Let’s get into this month’s edition of Pioneers in Tech.
Born in 1945 in Cleveland, Ohio, Goldberg began working at the famous Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) in 1973. She began as a laboratory and research assistant and by the late 1970s was working with her colleagues Dan Ingalls and Alan Kay on a new concept: an object-oriented programming language. Such languages power GUIs, the highly visual interfaces that differentiated the Macintosh operating system and run nearly every device today. But when Goldberg was at Xerox PARC, the only language to use icons, windows and menus was the proprietary “Smalltalk-80.” The rest of the world was using procedural programming languages (think MS-DOS).
But Goldberg knew Smalltalk-80 was something special—which is why she tried to prevent Steve Jobs from seeing it in action during a 1979 visit to Xerox PARC. Management overruled her, however, and Jobs was inspired by it to create the Macintosh OS, which in turn inspired Microsoft Windows.
A 2022 Computer History Museum fellow, Goldberg served as president of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) from 1984 to 1986. Kay, Ingalls and Goldberg jointly received the ACM Software Systems Award in 1987. She received PC Magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996 and was a 2010 inductee into the Women in Technology International (WITI) Hall of Fame.
The Computer History Museum makes it possible to see Smalltalk-80 in action through the Smalltalk Zoo, an online project created by Ingalls. It’s fun to give Smalltalk a spin in your own web browser.
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