On the second Tuesday in October, the world remembers a female pioneer of computer programming, Ada Lovelace.
In the year that marks 200 years since her birth, Ada Lovelace is remembered as a role model for all women in science, technology, engineering and maths (the so-called STEM subjects). Despite being widely regarded as the first computer programmer, Lovelace is one of just a handful of female role models in what continue to be male-dominated areas.
Ada Lovelace was the only legitimate daughter of famous poet and hell raiser, Lord Byron. Her mother was fearful that poetry would make little Ada’s life as chaotic as that of her father and so she pushed her towards mathematics and science – subjects that were not generally studied by girls in the 19th century.
Lovelace flourished at these subjects and worked closely with Charles Babbage who, inspired by a punch-card operated loom, came up with the idea of a programmable computer, the Analytical Engine. When Lovelace translated an essay on this, her copious notes ended up being longer than the essay itself and even contained instructions on using the machine. It is this that has led to her being called the first computer programmer.
What was also remarkable about Lovelace was the fact that she could see the other applications of the machine. Rather than just computing numbers, she understood that it computed symbols and so could also process music and letters. For this, she is hailed as prophesising the computer age and is regarded as somewhat of a visionary.
Ada Lovelace Day was started by Suw Charman-Anderson in 2009, to promote the visibility of female role models like Lovelace in the STEM industries. It is hoped that initiatives like these will persuade girls and women that these industries are accessible to women and that they can be truly successful in them.
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