In 2009, the first Ada Lovelace Day was designated as an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The aim of the day, now observed on the second Tuesday in October, is to increase the profile of women in STEM and by doing so, create new role models who will encourage more girls into STEM careers and support women already working in these fields. So, who was Ada Lovelace and why is this day named after her?
Augusta “Ada” King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace was, in a fashion very unheard of at the time for a lady of the aristocracy, educated in science and mathematics due to her mother’s insistence. Around the age of 17 she was introduced to the inventor Charles Babbage by her tutor Mary Somerville and the Lady Lovelace was fascinated by his work on what he called the difference engine, an elaborate calculating machine that operated by the method of finite differences.
When Babbage wanted to move away from the still incomplete difference engine to begin working on its successor, the analytical engine, his funders refused him any more money. In hopes of gaining back their favor Babbage asked Lovelace to translate an article written by an Italian mathematician explaining the new engine. Lovelace would spend nine months not only translating the work but creating a set of notes that would append the article.
These notes would end up being three times longer than the original article and the source of her fame. Included in the notes was her theory on a method for the engine to repeat a series of instructions–in a process used in computer programs today called looping. These notes also include a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers with the engine and this is widely considered the first computer program.
Passing away from uterine cancer at the young age of 36, it wasn’t until the 1950s that her work began to gain prominence and her name was linked with being one of, if not the first computer programmer.
Written by Angela Goad