November 23, 2016

608 words 3 mins read

Alan and Grace: An Origin Story

Meet Alan and Grace. These lighthearted, 8-bit characters were nominated in early 2014 to become the iconic mascots of Engineering at Cerner. Have you ever wondered who these 80’s video gaming inspired characters on our Engineering t-shirts are? Why were they chosen as mascots? What do they represent? The countless hours spent pondering these questions will be no more. Pull up a chair as we dive into the mystery behind the dynamic duo known as Alan and Grace.

Believe it or not, the enjoyable pair highlighted on a myriad of our engineering materials were named after two real life innovators: Alan Turing and Grace Hopper. Alan and Grace were visionaries in their time, championing advances that shaped the computer science innovations of today. These icons were chosen based on their contributions to computer science and the moxie they showed while doing it.

Alan, our spiky haired friend who embodies an 80’s meets hipster vibe, is named after the English mathematician Alan Mathison Turing (1912-1954). Turing is known to some as the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. Alan had an unquenchable mind and was in constant pursuit of knowledge, devoting his life to a vocation in science and mathematics as a computer scientist, mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, and theoretical biologist. Among his many contributions is the notable Alan Turing Enigma machine. The machine was used to help break the enigma code used in German naval communications during World War II. The concept of the Turing Enigma machine has become the foundation of the modern theory of computation and computability. Alan and his Enigma machine have received some recent fame as featured in the Imitation Game, a 2014 American historical drama-thriller loosely based on the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma. It can be argued that computer science would not be what it is today without the mathematical imagination of Alan Turing. Cue the mic drop now.

Cerner Engineering’s jovial female mascot appears as if she’s ready to take on the world. The fearless spirit of the mascot encompases the nature of its muse for whom she was named, Grace Brewster Murray Hopper (1906-1992). Grace Hopper was an American mathematician, computer programmer, military leader, and a woman clearly ahead of her time. Grace received a Ph.D. in mathematics, one of the first women to earn this level of education. Grace’s path to computer science began while serving in the U.S. Naval Reserve as one of the first to program the Harvard Mark I computer. Grace went on to create the first compiler for computer languages leading to COBOL, a widely adapted language that would be used around the world. But Grace wasn’t finished yet. At the age of 60, she was recalled to active duty where she standardized communication between different computer languages. When Grace retired at the age of 79 as a rear admiral, she was the oldest serving officer in the service. In 1991, Grace was the first women awarded the National Medal of Technology. Throughout her life, Grace encouraged young people to learn how to program. Grace’s legacy lives on through the Grace Murray Hopper Award, the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference, the University of Missouri’s computer museum “Grace’s Place”, and now Cerner’s Engineering mascot. Grace continues to serve as an inspiration to women in tech everywhere. Was there any other choice?

Alan and Grace represent a beacon of inspiration, providing icons that encapsulate and promote a culture of innovation, forward thinking, and just plain fun. The creation of mascots Alan and Grace has been a big win for the passionate Cerner engineers dedicated to fostering Cerner’s Engineering culture.