Mary Allen Wilkes

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Mary Allen Wilkes is a well-known computer scientist, famous for being the first person to use a home computer that she built herself. She is also one of the few women computer engineers who made her mark in what was a very male-dominated field in the 1950s and 60s.

Mary Wilkes was born in 1937 in Chicago, Illinois. She graduated from Wellesley College, in the class of 1959. She got her undergraduate degree in philosophy and then supposedly on a dare from her eighth-grade geography teacher, she took up computer programming. From 1959 to 1963 she worked at the MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory and simulated the LINC on the TX-2 computer. LINC or the Laboratory Instrument Computer was the first minicomputer. Wilkes wrote many LINC operating systems, their names starting with LAP till she finally reached LAP6. She authored the LAP6 Handbook and co-authored with Wesley A. Clark the Programming the LINC. She was the first person to design and work on a computer privately at home in 1965 and is regarded as the first home computer user. Soon after this feat, she left MIT and joined The Washington University in St. Louis at their Computer Systems Laboratory. Here she designed the multiply macromodule. Wilkes is especially well known for developing the assembler-linker model used in modern programming compilers and for conceptualizing and implementing the first operating system to sit between a program and the actual computer hardware.

Later, Wilkes left computer science and entered law school and went on to become a practicing attorney in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is remembered in the field of computer science for her contributions to both computer programming and hardware engineering.