Monday, December 10, 2012

Happy 197th B-Day to world’s first known computer programmer, Ada Lovelace

The analytical engine weaves algebraic equations just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves.”
~~ Ada Lovelace

from notes on Menabrae’s Memoir on the Analytic Engine, 1843

Did you know that the world's first known computer programmer and the founder of computer science was a woman? Hard to imagine the first geek being a female in the mid 1800th century. Happy 197th B-Day to Ada Lovelace (10 December 1815 – 27 November 1852). Ada was an English mathematician and writer chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage's early mechanical general-purpose computer, the analytical engine. Her notes on the engine include what is recognized as the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine; thanks to this, she is sometimes considered the world's first computer programmer, founder and prophet of scientific computing and enchantress of numbers.

As a young adult, she took an interest in mathematics, and in particular Babbage's work on the analytical engine. Between 1842 and 1843, she translated an article by Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea on the engine, which she supplemented with a set of notes of her own. These notes contain what is considered the first computer program — that is, an algorithm encoded for processing by a machine.

Born Augusta “Ada” Byron on December 10, 1815 to poet George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, and his wife, Anne Isabella "Annabella" Milbanke, Baroness Byron. Byron, and many of those who knew Byron, expected that the baby would be "the glorious boy", and there was some disappointment at the contrary news. As a child, Ada was often ill and when she was eight, she experienced headaches that obscured her vision. She became paralysed in n June 1829, from the measles. She was subjected to continuous bed rest and by 1831 she was able to walk with crutches.
At the age of 17 her remarkable mathematical abilities began to emerge, and her interest in mathematics dominated the majority of her adult life.

In a letter to Lady Byron, De Morgan suggested that her daughter's skill in mathematics could lead her to become "an original mathematical investigator, perhaps of first-rate eminence.

On 8 July 1835 she married William King, 8th Baron King, becoming Baroness King. They had three children; Byron born 12 May 1836, Anne Isabella (called Annabella, later Lady Anne Blunt) born 22 September 1837 and Ralph Gordon born 2 July 1839. Immediately after the birth of Annabella, Lady King experienced "a tedious and suffering illness, which took months to cure".[29] In 1838, her husband was created Earl of Lovelace. Thus, she was styled "The Right Honourable the Countess of Lovelace" for most of her married life.

The computer language Ada, created on behalf of the United States Department of Defense, was named after Ada Lovelace. The reference manual for the language was approved on 10 December 1980, and the Department of Defense Military Standard for the language, "MIL-STD-1815", was given the number of the year of her birth. Since 1998, the British Computer Society has awarded a medal in her name[71] and in 2008 initiated an annual competition for women students of computer science.[

All photos courtesy of Wikimedia unless otherwise indicated.

Additional resources:
Google Doodle celebrates Ada Lovelace Washington Post
The Babbage Engine, Computer History
Ada Lovelace, World's First Computer Programmer, Celebrated With Google Doodle, Huffington Post
Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace, SDSC

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  1. I have worked in IT management for over 20 years and didn’t know about Ada Lovelace being the founder of scientific computing and the first computer programmer. Interesting to learn that women were at the forefront way back when.

  2. We need to share as much information about women as possible. I enjoy your blog but especially this one. Hoorah for leading, women geeks. The more the merrier. We need more women in the sciences and technology and this post should serve as an inspiration to all women who aspire to sciences and technologies.