What Has Ada Lovelace Done For You?

by Shonali Burke on March 24, 2010

Necessity’s the mother of invention. So’s her daughter.

Technology has never been a game that just guys can play. From the start, women have been involved in the creation and development of computers. But one of the most important contributors — Ada Lovelace — is virtually unknown.

Lovelace was the first computer programmer: as Charles Babbage developed his analytical engine, Lovelace provided him with notes that have since been recognized as the first real description of a computer and software.

She described an algorithm written in order to be implemented on a computer and even went so far as to suggest that, one day, computers would have capabilities far beyond just calculating numbers — something that Babbage did not consider.

All of this happened between 1842 and 1843 (Lovelace lived from 1815 to 1852). Women did not have the vote in England at the time and could not attend institutes of higher education. Lovelace’s expertise in mathematics was due only to her own interest and her mother’s efforts to have her privately tutored in the field.

But her contributions to the development of the computer have been largely ignored, due to her gender.

It’s not an uncommon story — but it is one that reminds us to think about not only the many contributions over women have made to science and technology but also what opportunities they have created for the rest of us.

Ada Lovelace Day

March 24th is Ada Lovelace Day, an opportunity to draw attention to the achievements of women in technology. For me, that means thinking about the women who spend hours a day working on the tools I use. It also means thinking about the women who have made a path that allows me to build a business within a field that just a few decades ago was entirely unimagined.

The apple doesn’t fall far…

Personally, that means looking straight back up my family tree. My grandmother was a university librarian and an earlier adopter of tools like email. My great-grandmother managed to earn a Master’s of chemistry in an era when a college degree was virtually unheard of for women in the first place. I know I was lucky to have those role models in my life.

It makes the question of what will be available for the next generation of women — who may or may not have role models when it comes to technology and science — that much more important.

What has Ada done for you?

Today is an important chance to recognize the women who have let us come this far in technology, from Ada Lovelace to all the women involved in the field today.

Who has made your work possible? Who will benefit from the doors you open and the walls you break down?

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Thursday BramRegular contributor Thursday Bram offers content marketing through Hyper Modern Consulting, as well as more traditional writing services. She blogs about the shift between freelancing and business through her personal blog Thursday Bram and can be reached at www.twitter.com/thursdayb.

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