Ada Lovelace: who was the first female programmer

Few women could have access to education in the 19th century, but Ada Lovelace did. She became not only an outstanding mathematician for her time, but also went down in history as the “mother of programming” and the author of the first machine algorithm. We will tell you more about her path to success.

genius family

Perhaps if Ada had not been born into a family of such noble origin, we would never have heard of her. But she came into this world under the name of Augusta Ada Byron. Yes, she was the only legitimate daughter of Lord George Byron, the world-famous English poet, and Isabella Noel-Byron, a woman with a penchant for studying mathematics. Both parents were privileged representatives of the aristocracy, gifted and well educated. But still, this marriage was unhappy: almost immediately after the birth of the girl, her parents divorced, and the baby stayed with her mother.

Isabella Noel and George Byron

Out of fear that Ada might inherit the turbulent and unpredictable nature of her poet father, the mathematically gifted Isabella tried to give her daughter an education based on the exact sciences. Mathematics and natural sciences at that time were not taught to girls at the proper level, so invited teachers worked with Ada. This formed in her a craving for research, although almost no one took the efforts of a young girl seriously.

Hell as a child

Fateful acquaintance

Around the age of 17, Ada met Charles Babbage, a mathematician and inventor. Babbage was impressed with the brilliant young woman, and they corresponded for years, discussing mathematics and computing. To some extent, he became her mentor. Thanks to Babbage, Lovelace began studying higher mathematics with one of the professors at the University of London and became one of the smartest women in the world.

During this period, Charles was actively working on the creation of a machine that was intended to perform mathematical calculations. Ada got a chance to look at the device before the job was completed and was fascinated by it. From this begins her immersion in the world of studying the concepts of computer technology, and even when she had to interrupt her studies in science for the sake of marriage and motherhood, she did not lose contact with Babbage. Not in vain

Charles Babbage

The student who surpassed the teacher

Already the wife of Lord Lovelace and the mother of three children, Ada did not want to leave her beloved work. In 1842, she had a unique opportunity to contribute to science. Charles Babbage gave a lecture on his invention of the Analytical Engine at the University of Turin, but his colleague Luigi Menabrea, a mathematician (and, incidentally, a future Italian prime minister), recorded the lecture in French. And Ada, who is fluent in both French and mathematical base, is instructed to translate the text of this lecture into English. It was an opportunity that the girl could not miss.

Photograph of Ada, 1843

Lovelace took up the work thoroughly: the translation took her almost a year, which was worth it, because the work exceeded all expectations. The girl did not just rewrite Babbage’s words, she supplemented the text of the transcript with her own ideas and comments that amazed scientists. As a result, her article turned out to be three times longer than the text that was originally supposed to be translated.

It was clear from Lovelace’s additions that she understood the Analytical Engine as well as Babbage himself. So Ada had the idea to enter data that would program a machine to calculate Bernoulli numbers. This is what modern researchers consider to be the first written computer program. Lovelace’s mentor was so impressed with her contribution to the development of the machine that he called Ada “the sorceress of numbers”.

Lovelace diagram from the first published computer algorithm

Appreciation of Lovelace’s contribution

Of course, today we already understand that if Ada had not written the first computer program, someone else would have done it, it’s just a matter of time. But this can be said about any discovery, because the true value of the work today lies in the fact that it was the first (for a minute, almost a century before the invention of the computer). Unfortunately, due to lack of funds, the development of the machine had to be curtailed, and because of this, Ada’s program could not be tested during her lifetime.

And although today the Lovelace program itself no longer has any practical application, for the 19th century it was an incredible breakthrough: the work was highly appreciated by contemporaries, Ada was a member of the circles of eminent scientists. Among her acquaintances are Michael Faraday, Charles Wheatstone and other brilliant minds of their time.

Ada Lovelace

In addition to the direct scientific contribution, the work of the “mother of programming” is also valuable for some far-sighted statements about the future of technology. Lovelace suggested that in the future, computers may be needed not only to work with numbers, but also to create something else. For example, for writing music or for processing scientific data. She really turned out to be a prophet of the computer age and the first person to point out the potential of the then theoretical machines.

The value of Ada’s contribution was discovered only in the mid-1950s, when her notes to Babbage’s lecture were republished. She has since gained universal recognition as a programming pioneer and one of the preeminent women in the IT industry. And in 1980, the US Department of Defense even named one of the developed programming languages ​​”Ada”, in honor of Lovelace.

Ada Lovelace

Thanks to this talented woman, we can safely say that nature does not rest on the children of geniuses, because the daughter of a famous poet definitely did not remain in the shadow of her eminent father. And in some ways, perhaps, it overshadowed him. A passion for science and a unique mind have made Ada a symbol and model of women in science. Read about the difficulties other ladies face in the scientific community in our material on the Matilda effect.

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