It might surprise you to learn that one of the first computer programmers was a woman, Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852). As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2020, we’d like to share Ada’s story and her remarkable achievements in what is a very male dominant sector.
Ada was a British mathematician and the first to recognise that a computer could do more than process equations. Her father, Lord Byron, was a renowned poet and although Ada didn’t know her father, her dying wish was to be buried next to him. Ada’s mother encouraged her to study mathematics and steered her away from her father’s creative flare. However, some believe that he was the one that influenced Ada’s ‘poetic science’ approach, enabling her to look beyond the mathematics to new applications.
In her late teens, Ada be-friended Charles Babbage, a fellow mathematician and innovator. Babbage, also known as ‘the father of computers’ became a mentor to Ada. Through Babbage, Ada enrolled with the University of London to study advanced mathematics.
Babbage was known for inventing the difference engine, a machine that could perform mathematical calculations. Ada studied his work and was fascinated by it. Between 1842 and 1843 she translated an article by Luigi Federico Menabrea on Babbage’s analytical engine. Alongside the translation, Ada made her own notes that were three times longer than the original article.
Her notes were published in an English science journal in 1843. Ada’s work outlined how the machine could handle letters and symbols as well as numbers. She also introduced a concept known as looping, which is still used by computer programmers today. The notes introduced a number of revolutionary ideas and it was because of this work that some historians consider Ada to be the first computer programmer.
WORDS: Jess Jones // IMAGE: Portrait of Ada Lovelace