A-Z of computing: A is for Ada Lovelace (& Ada Lovelace Day)

Sometimes called the first computer programmer, and described as the founder of scientific computing, Ada Lovelace was  a visionary who saw far beyond what Charles Babbage imagined to be the possibilities for his difference engine. She is the poster girl for women in IT, albeit one in lace and a bustle. Ada Lovelace Day takes this legacy and turns it into inspiration for the modern day.

Ada Lovelace: Visionary and Role model

Ada Lovelace: we’ve all heard of her (HAVEN’T we??- here’s Wikipedia’s Ada Lovelace entry if your memory needs refreshing), but would or could she have expected that her contribution to computing would be remembered through the headlong hurtle of developments in technology? Remarkably, Ada is better remembered for her role in computing than for her rather sensational background as the daughter of Lord Byron and Anne Milbanke, who separated when she was tiny.

Anne was determined that Ada would grow up to be as unlike her poetic father as possible, and so ensured that she was well-educated in maths. However, Ada’s mathematical abilities merely fuelled her imagination and furnished her with the skills to design flights of fancy such as a flying machine.

Initially Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, a family friend, corresponded on maths, logic and beyond. Charles asked Ada to translate a French discourse on analytical engines, and she spent 1842-43 not only translating but commenting on the work. She was better able  than Babbage to see the scope and potential of the machine. This extraordinary passage (from SDSC) demonstrates Ada’s insight:

[The analytical engine] was suited for “developping [sic] and tabulating any function whatever. . . the engine [is] the material expression of any indefinite function of any degree of generality and complexity.” Her Notes anticipate future developments, including computer-generated music.

Ada LovelaceDay: her legacy

170 years later, Ada Lovelace Day celebrates the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Held this year on 16th October, it aims to raise funds and create new role models for today’s girls by

shining light on the accomplishments of real women working in STEM. Too many of our best and brightest women go unnoticed in the shadows. We want to change that and, in doing so, support girls and women in their choice to study and work in these areas.

You can read all about it here.

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