Thursday, September 6, 2012

Augusta Ada Byron - The Countess of Lovelace

An Important Woman in Academic History
The Founder of Scientific Computing
Ada Lovelace
For most of us in today's society, when we think about computer science and computer programming, we think of self-proclaimed nerds sitting at computer screens and college prodigies creating billion dollar websites in their dorm rooms (Facebook?)—and almost all of these images brought to mind are male. Today, the majority of student majoring in computer science and professionals working as computer programmers are male. However, interestingly, the history of the now booming industry of computer programming and scientific computing was actually founded by a woman.
Ada Lovelace
Augusta Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace, now most commonly known as Ada Lovelace, born in 1815, was an English mathematician and writer and is noted as the world's first computer programmer. However, for the most part, this recognition is only really known by those close to the academic study of computer science. For the general public, Ada might be better known for being the first daughter of famous English poet Lord Byron. Ada had no relationship with her poet father, moving away from him with her mother when she was just a girl. Aside from her interesting heritage, Ada's academic resume and history is quite remarkable.
Mary Somerville
In her adult years, Ada became close friends with Mary Somerville, a noted researcher and scientific author in the 19th century. Somerville introduced Ada to Charles Babbage who would soon become her mentor and academic inspiration. Babbage was a mathematician, philosopher, inventor, and mechanical engineer who was working on the concept of a programmable computer when Ada met him.
Charles Babbage
Ada's work on what would eventually be the first computer program began with the nine-month process of translating Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea's memoir on Babbage's newest proposed machine, the Analytical Engine.
Luigi Federico Menebrea
Ada made this transition and added several notes of her own to the work. Explaining Babbage's Analytical Engine was no simple task—many had tried and failed. Ada, however, prevailed and added a section that included in great detail a method for calculating a sequence of numbers with the Engine. This calculation (or program) would have run correctly had the Analytical Engine been built at the time. The actual machine based off of Babbage's work was not completed until 2002.
Ada Lovelace
Ada's work was well received and she was highly regarded among academics and scientists of the time as a strong writer and talented mathematician. Her work on the Analytical Engine and her method of calculation, however, would not be formally recognized as the first computer program ever written until much later over 100 years after her death. With the current atmosphere that surrounds science and computer programming, it is extremely interesting and valuable to recognize that Ada, a woman, was the first individual to conjure an algorithm intended for a computer. With STEM outreach at an educational level and a looming lack of women in the professional science field, there's something to be said about woman playing a more prominent role in computer science during the patriarchal days of the 19th century.
Lauren Bailey is a freelance blogger for She loves writing about education, new technology, lifestyle and health. As an education writer, she works to provide helpful information on the best online colleges and courses and welcomes comments and questions via email at blauren 99
From History and Women


QNPoohBear said...

Though I am abysmal at math and science, I think Ada Lovelace is pretty cool. I have her on a t-shirt from ThinkGeek
(My bluestocking collection of Christmas gifts)

Judith Starkston said...

Great post! I'd never read about Ada Lovelace either, and as the mom of a female theoretical mathematician that's downright embarrassing. Thanks for helping all of us learn about this early leader in computing.