Did you know that the first computer programmer was a woman? This is the powerful story of Ada Lovelace, who made history in the world of technology in the 19th century.
In the early 1800s, mathematician Ada Lovelace was one of the first people ever to program a computer.
In fact, the tech industry celebrates her as the world’s first computer programmer. Her story is an inspiring one.
On December 10, 1815, Ada was born in Piccadilly Terrace, Middlesex (now known as London), England. She was born into a wealthy and well-connected family in England. Her father was the famous poet Lord Byron. And her mother, Annabella Byron, was a mathematician.
Ada’s mother encouraged her to study mathematics and science. As a result, Ada quickly became interested in computer science. In 1842, she wrote a paper about how we could use computers to create music. This paper is the one people consider the first-ever computer program.
Due to her father’s malice, her mother was bitter about her late husband. He had passed in Greece when Ada was only eight years old. Her mother wanted her to pursue mathematics and science so she wouldn’t become like her father.
However, Ada took interest in her father, even well after his death.
Ada Lovelace’s ‘poetical science’
Ada married William King in 1835, and she became the Countess of Lovelace. She met incredible scientists like Andrew Crosse, Sir David Brewster, Michael Faraday, and author Charles Dickens during her studies.
Ada dubbed her approach “poetical science” and named herself an “Analyst.”
She became an English mathematician and writer. Ada studied Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. Mr. Babbage was “the Father of computers.”
Becoming the first computer programmer as a woman
In 1840, Babbage presented a lecture at the University of Turin on his Analytical Engine. Babbage’s friend Charles Wheatstone engaged Ada Lovelace to translate Menabrea’s work into English. She made notes that added to the translation.
Then, Ada organized her notes in alphabetical order. She specifies an algorithm for the Analytical Engine to compute Bernoulli numbers in note G.
Ada Lovelace is the first computer programmer because she developed the first published algorithm.
Lovelace specifically designed it for implementation on a computer, and this achievement has long been recognized. She never tested her software since the engine wasn’t complete.
Ada’s technical notes distinguish between the Analytical Engine and previous calculating machines, especially its programming capacity to tackle any degree of difficulty.
She wrote to Woronzow Greig in 1844 that she wished to develop a mathematical model for how the brain generates ideas and nerves, as well emotions: “a calculus of the nervous system.” She never finished this project, though.
Tech empire and legacy
Sadly, Ada Lovelace died young. She was only 36 years old. But her legacy continues.
For example, there is the computer language Ada, which the United States Department of Defense named after Lovelace. The language’s official reference guide and the Department of Defense Military Standard for the language, MIL-STD-1815, were given her year of birth as number 1815.
Ada is still celebrated today in books, film, television, and more. Even more, Nvidia named their next GPU architecture — launch pending in 2022 — “Ada Lovelace.”
Featured image source: Watercolor portrait of Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, circa 1840, possibly by Alfred Edward Chalon, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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