How ENIAC continues to inspire our team 72 years later
On February 15, 1946, ENIAC, the world’s first programmable electronic computer made its debut at the University of Pennsylvania. And 72 years later, we wanted to commemorate the “Giant Brain,” as dubbed by the press, for its impressive start to the computer programming revolution and for being the inspiration for Eniac Ventures.
ENIAC made history with its groundbreaking technology. It was built to process large batches of numerical problems really quickly, essentially what we would call today as a giant super calculator. A feat at the time, it calculated a trajectory that took a human 20 hours in 30 seconds. This speed coupled with programmability solidified its place in history and began the computer programming revolution. And Eniac Ventures, we continue to support the type of transformational technology that ENIAC brought on seven decades ago.
During our time at Penn, we were inspired by the people that brought ENIAC to life. While designed by Mauchly and Eckert, ENIAC was built, operated and maintained over the years by a large team who all held vital roles. In stark contrast to most tech companies today, ENIAC’s first programmers were women. In the beginning, six women — Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli, Jean Jennings Bartik, Frances Snyder Holberton, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, Frances Bilas Spence, and Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum — were recruited as top mathematicians to program the massive project.
Without any formal coding experience or tools like we have today, these women, called “The Computers” physically programmed ENIAC using the 3000+ switches and dozens of cables and digit trays to physically route the data and program pulses through the machine. Many of them went on to teach programming and develop some of the earliest tools for software engineers.
ENIAC’s diverse team speaks volumes about how the entire VC community need to support women and the underrepresented groups. We believe that the community cannot live up to its full potential without the participation from people of all genders and walks of life.
Today, as we look back at ENIAC, let’s remember not only how far technology has come, but all those with the vision, the skills, and the support who have helped us get here.