As a woman business owner, I can appreciate the struggles that females have in predominantly male industries, and love reading about how they overcome obstacles with perseverance. In this series of blogs, you will become familiar with the lives of 4 women who broke out of their societal molds to accomplish great feats through insightful computing imagination, rocket science intelligence, Nobel Prize worthy discoveries and patriotic bravery. I hope that you find some inspiration of your own in their stories and share them with other women who aren’t afraid to reach for the stars! Our first installment features Ada Lovelace – first computer programmer!
In every field and every discipline we find those whose work lies largely unknown and unaccredited. The field of computing is one which hides a wide array of men and women who have given much of their life to their work without recognition. This is particularly true of women in computing.
Women have played a vital part in the development of computing and engineering, yet many have not received the credit or the compensation to which they were due. Many overcame a level of discrimination in order to operate in the field.
In the mathematical sciences such as engineering and computing, a broad range of pioneers have been overlooked and remain unknown. To a large extent, these unknown facets of our computing history are women.
In fact, many people are not aware that men like Cyrus McCormick and Eli Whitney of cotton gin fame were both dependent upon female engineers for the design of the inventions for which they are famous. Women in engineering are responsible for items such as the bulletproof vest and even the fire escape.
Ada Lovelace – First Computer Programmer
The foremost female genius of computing is not a well-known icon, nor is she one with which many will be familiar. She is however a shining example of what can be achieved by the vision of one person who sees more than the sum of an object.
Ada Lovelace, whose contributions to computing took place well before its development, are known by very few.
Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer, was of paramount importance in working with British Mathematician Charles Babbage. Babbage is widely credited with the invention of what would develop into our modern day computer. In 1843 Lovelace published a paper that discussed the future development of computing devices. Her insight and imagination coined the term “software” as well as told of the artificial intelligence that would arise and the use of computers to create music.
Born in December of 1815, Ada was the child of the famed English poet, Lord Byron. It was her mother who is largely credited with the development of Ada’s interest in mathematics to prevent her from following in the literary pursuits of her father.
Noted as one of the most beautiful young women of her time, she was also lauded as a scientist and mathematician who was preeminent in her field.
Ada was taught by some of the most gifted scientists and mathematicians of the era, including William King, William Frend and Mary Somerville. It was Somerville who introduced Lovelace to Charles Babbage.
Ada Lovelace called herself a “poetical scientist.” Her vision was far reaching and her imagination even more so. At the very young age of 17 she began working Babbage. His interest in analytical engines became her passion.
Largely due to this interest, Lovelace began to seek out articles and books on the subject and to translate and devour them. Taking nearly a year, Ada Lovelace translated an article which interested her greatly. The item had been written by Luigi Menabrea, an Italian military engineer.
She injected parts of her own thinking, adding to the already well fleshed out item by Menabrea. Her insertions –covering several dozen pages– were titled very simply, “Notes.”
Ada’s Vision For How The Capacity of Computers Will Exceed Simple Mathematical Equation Solving
Her vision shows through in her writing. She wrote about the capacity of this future computer to go beyond what might be simple addition or computations. Most of the others in her era focused solely on how computing machines might be capable of accomplishing mathematical equations to make life easier for men.
Lovelace saw more clearly and far further than even Babbage himself. Her vision for computing and what it would someday provide to mankind included musical compositions, art as well as mathematical concepts.
These notes which were written by Lovelace amount to what is now considered in scientific circles as the first algorithm. It is a piece of software which details how something could be processed by machine to arrive at a logical conclusion.
While her accolades were few so far as what she accomplished as a computer visionary in her lifetime, one shines through above all others. The Department of Defense of the United States boasts their own computer language. It is named, quite appropriately, ADA, in honor of the woman who first envisioned software.
Google thought so much of Ada Lovelace’s accomplishments in computing that they devoted a Google Doodle to her on their homepage, celebrating her 197th birthday on Dec 10, 2012.