Adele Goldberg (computer scientist)

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Dr. Adele Goldberg
Dr. Adele Goldberg at Python Conference (PyCon) 2007
Born (1945-07-22) July 22, 1945 (age 78)
Alma materUniversity of Michigan
University of Chicago
Known forSmalltalk System
Scientific career
FieldsComputer science
InstitutionsXerox PARC, Association for Computing Machinery, Stanford University
ThesisComputer-Assisted Instruction: The Application of Theorem-proving to Adaptive Response Analysis (1973)

Adele Goldberg (born July 22, 1945) is an American computer scientist. She was one of the co-developers of the programming language Smalltalk-80, which is a computer software that simplifies the programming language, and has been the basis of knowledge and structure for many other programming languages such as Python, C, and Java.[1] She also developed many concepts related to object-oriented programming while a researcher at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), in the 1970s.

Early life and education[edit]

Goldberg was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 22, 1945. Her parents moved to Chicago, Illinois when she was 11, where she spent the rest of her childhood.[2] She enjoyed problem solving and mathematics from a young age. In High School, she was in Student Council, but then realized this wasn't her area of interest. She was and was encouraged by her teachers to pursue mathematics.[2] In 1967, she earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics at the University of Michigan.[3] In 1963, Goldberg parted ways from Chicago for a few years and attended the University of Michigan. She considered Ann Arbor a big change from her Chicago lifestyle, mentioning her hardships in adapting to life separated for the first time from her twin sister. Mathematics as a degree shielded her for the social instability of the country– as President John F. Kennedy had been murdered that same year. Math and science were an opportunity for her to dedicate time into her studies and avoid social situations. She spent three years there, went to Europe and missed one semester, and then returned to finish her degree.[4]

Interested in the subject of computing, Goldberg worked as an intern with IBM during the summer of her junior year of college, where she learned how to program unit record machines.[5] After graduating, she attended the University of Chicago, where she received her master's degree (in 1969) and a PhD (in 1973) in information science.[3] She completed her dissertation, "Computer-Assisted Instruction: The Application of Theorem-proving to Adaptive Response Analysis," while working as a research associate at Stanford University.[6] She also served as a visiting researcher at Stanford.[7] In California, during a meeting of the AAssociation for Computing Machinery (ACM) Special Interest Group on Computer Users in Education, Adele met John Stoch, a XEROX employee, where they talked about a potential computer designed for children's education, called Dynabook. [8]



Goldberg began working at PARC in 1973 as a laboratory and research assistant, and eventually became manager of the System Concepts Laboratory where she, Alan Kay, and other researchers developed the programming language Smalltalk-80.[6] At the time, it was not common for female computer scientists, nonetheless, Alan Kay, the leader of the design and development of first modern computer interface, hired a pregnant Adele Goldberg. This language developed the object-oriented approach of Simula 67 and introduced a programming environment of overlapping windows on graphic display screens. This new “personal computer,” with its key features including portability, network connection, communication with others, build models, and content sharing capabilities was the objective of Smalltalk at the time.

Smalltalk's innovative format was simple to use and customizable. Objects could be transferred among applications with minimal effort.[6][7] Goldberg and Kay were involved in the development of design templates, forerunners of the design patterns later used in software design.[9] Adele says that Smalltalk took inspiration from another language, which was created in the Sixties, Simula. Smalltalk 72, one of the iterations, was the first to feature low-level animations, and music. Adele and her team paired up with Doug Engelbart, the original inventor of the mouse, to see the possibilities of its incorporation to Smalltalk with the goal of better access, avoiding command lines with funny syntax. Smalltalk 72 was Adele's first opportunity to “teach” and explain this model to anyone.[10]


Along with Kay, she wrote the influential article "Personal Dynamic Media", which predicted a world in which ordinary individuals would use notebook computers to exchange, modify, and redistribute personal media.[11] This paper outlined the vision for the Dynabook. She emphasized the vision of a small device, being able to be carried anywhere, that could give out information in quantities approaching that of human sensory systems, where the output had to be higher quality than newspapers. [12] This paper outlined the vision for Dynabook.


Adele was very passionate about Smalltalk, spending lots of time promoting her creation. In 1981, BYTE magazine featured Smalltalk, where she personally helped write and edit an article, with the goal of introducing and normalizing object-oriented programming as a necessity in today's developing and technologically dependent society.[13]


Many of the concepts developed by Goldberg and her team at PARC became the basis for graphical user interfaces. According to Goldberg, Steve Jobs demanded a demonstration of the Smalltalk System, which she at first refused to give him, although her superiors eventually compelled her to comply.[14] Apple eventually took many of the ideas used in the Xerox Alto and their implementations and used them as the basis for their Apple Macintosh desktop environment. Afterwards, Steve Jobs was shown an early version of Goldberg's Smalltalk (Model 76 at the time), where he immediately incorporated it into Apple's new Computer, the Macintosh. It led to a commercial which aired in 1984, during the Super Bowl XVIII. The commercial emphasized on Smalltalk's key features, including the importance of GUI, as it facilitated the interaction through simplicity.[13]


Between 1984 through 1986, Adele was President of the Association for Computing Machinery. Her previous roles included National Secretary and Editor-in-Chief of ACM's Computing Surveys, being awarded the 1987 ACM Software Systems Award along with her colleagues Ingalls and Kay for the development of Smalltalk.[15]


In 1988, Goldberg left PARC to cofound ParcPlace Systems, a company that created development tools for Smalltalk-based applications. Most of her work at PARC is the foundation for today's graphically based user interfaces, which replace earlier command line base systems.[10] There, she served as chairwoman and CEO until its 1995 merger with Digitalk. She also cofounded Neometron, Inc. an Internet support provider in 1999. She works at Bullitics.[16] She continues to pursue her interest in education, formulating computer science courses at community colleges in the United States and abroad. She is a board member and adviser at Cognito Learning Media, a provider of multimedia software for science education.[6]

Achievements and accolades[edit]

“The Dynabook mission remains to create the medium, both the creative modeling environment and the curriculum, to upend how kids can share their understanding of how things work, and be challenged as to whether that understanding reflects an approximation to reality.” – Adele Goldberg

Goldberg has been awarded a number of awards and honors for her contributions to the development of computer systems. She was president of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) from 1984 to 1986, and, with Alan Kay and Dan Ingalls, received the ACM Software Systems Award in 1987. She was included in Forbes's "Twenty Who Matter".[6] In 1994, she was inducted as a Fellow of the ACM.[7] She received PC Magazine's Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996.[6] She was co-awarded the Dr. Dobb's Excellence in Programming Award with Dan Ingalls in 2002.[17] In 2010, she was admitted into the Women in Technology International (WITI) Hall of Fame.[18] She was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Open University.[17] In 2021, she received the University of Chicago Alumni Professional Achievement Award. Furthermore, she was given honorary degrees from the University of Michigan in 2014.[19]

The Computer History Museum (CHM) houses a collection of Goldberg's working documents, reports, publications and videotapes related to her work on the development of Smalltalk.[20] In 2022, with Dan Ingalls, she was made a Fellow of the CHM for promoting and codeveloping the Smalltalk programming environment and contributions advancing use of computers in education.[3]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Kay, A., Goldberg, A., & Learning Research Group at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. (1977b). Personal Dynamic media. In Computer (Vol. 10, Issue 3, pp. 31–41).
  • Goldberg, Adele; Robson, David (May 1, 1983). Harrison, Michael A. (ed.). Smalltalk-80: The Language and Its Implementation. Boston: Addison-Wesley. ISBN 978-0201113716. (out of print; the blue book as known by Smalltalk people)
  • Goldberg, Adele (December 1, 1983). Smalltalk-80: The Interactive Programming Environment. Boston: Addison-Wesley. ISBN 978-0201113723. (the orange book)
  • Goldberg, Adele; Robson, David (June 1, 1989). Smalltalk-80: The Language. Boston: Addison-Wesley. ISBN 978-0201136883. (the purple book, a revision of the blue book)


  1. ^ GfG. (2022, September 30). Introduction to Smalltalk. GeeksforGeeks.
  2. ^ a b "Oral-History:Adele Goldberg". ETHW. April 14, 2022. Retrieved December 18, 2022.
  3. ^ a b c "Adele Goldberg: 2022 Fellow". Computer History Museum (CHM). April 2022. Retrieved April 14, 2022.
  4. ^ Ethw. (2022, April 14). Oral-History:Adele Goldberg - Engineering and Technology History Wiki. ETHW.
  5. ^ "Adele Goldberg". Centre for Computing History. Retrieved December 17, 2022.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Oakes, Elizabeth H. (2002). International encyclopedia of women scientists. New York, New York: Facts on File. pp. 136–137. ISBN 978-0816043811.
  7. ^ a b c Adele Goldberg Biography. BookRags.
  8. ^ Women who changed tech - Dr. Adele Goldberg. (n.d.). Extreme Networks.
  9. ^ Chamond Liu, Smalltalk, Objects, and Design (San Jose, New York, and Shanghai: toExcel, 2000), 240
  10. ^ a b Dr. Adele Goldberg. (2017, August 20). IT History Society.
  11. ^ Kay, Alan C.; Goldberg, Adele (March 1977). "Personal Dynamic Media". Computer. 10 (3): 31–41. doi:10.1109/c-m.1977.217672. S2CID 15070347.
  12. ^ Kay, A., Goldberg, A., & Learning Research Group at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. (1977). Personal Dynamic media. In Computer (Vol. 10, Issue 3, pp. 31–41).
  13. ^ a b Women who changed tech - Dr. Adele Goldberg. (n.d.-b). Extreme Networks.
  14. ^ Cringely, Robert X. (June 1996). "Triumph of the Nerds: The Television Program Transcripts: Part III".
  15. ^ Computer History Museum. (2022b, September 8). Adele Goldberg - CHM. CHM.
  16. ^ "The Team - Bios". Bullitics - Beta. April 26, 2012. Archived from the original on April 26, 2012. Retrieved September 8, 2015.
  17. ^ a b "2002 Dr. Dobb's Excellence in Programming Awards". Dr. Dobb's. Retrieved December 19, 2022.
  18. ^ (Qamar, 2022)
  19. ^ Computer History Museum. (2022, September 8). Adele Goldberg - CHM. CHM.
  20. ^ Guide to the Adele Goldberg papers. Computer History Museum. Retrieved April 28, 2016.

External links[edit]