Below is an excerpt of GIRLS WITH DREAMS (out now!)
There are quite a few household names who’ve hailed from the technology community — many Americans are aware of Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs, because they’ve all contributed in some way to their lives. Perhaps, when they wake, they refresh Facebook on their iPhone, search for updates, and later head to their Microsoft computer to check emails. These men are all incredible technological pioneers, but who was the first? Who can be considered the very first computer programmer? The answer? Ada Lovelace.
Ada Lovelace was born Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace, on December 10, 1815. An English mathematician, she was fascinated with numbers and their purposes. But she was interested in more than that. She wanted to create something bigger than herself, something that would amaze and further society.
Her father, Lord George Gordon Byron, had married her mother Anne Isabella Milbanke, and was promised a child: namely, a “glorious boy”. However, on the 10th of December, he found he had been bitterly wrong. His wife had given birth to a daughter, and the Lord was displeased, to say the least. Additionally, Ada was the only legitimate child of Lord Byron, which meant he had no direct heir.
Given that England has traditionally been a patriarchal society, this is understandable but unsettling. Soon after Ada’s birth, Lord Byron departed England, eventually perishing in the Greek War of Independence some time later. All the while, Ada’s mother tenderly supported Ada’s growing interest in logic and mathematics. Ada was a revolutionary in the making, with numbers and logic being her sword.
In her teenage years, her mathematical skills would rise exponentially, and her talents did not go unnoticed. She soon made acquaintance with Charles Babbage, a famed English mathematician interested in Ada’s advanced abilities.
Today, he’s considered the father of computers, and for good reason. In the early 1800s, he was working on his Analytical Engine — a mechanical, general-purpose computing instrument, which he deemed was fit only for number crunching and calculating. Ada, however, was skeptical. She felt that computers could do much more than simply compute values, and decided to do something about it. In a lengthy collection of notes she held concerning the Engine, Lovelace wrote the world’s first algorithm.
Essentially, she coded the first computer program! Her program calculated the Bernoulli numbers: rational numbers created from an exponential generating function. But the revolutionary part of this was computers could now be programmed to carry out a specific task, and then programmed to execute another one. They didn’t have to be built for specifically one purpose. This is the core of all programming: to solve a problem, and then another one after that. It’s never just one!
If we look to modern times, her vision has now come true. Computers are rarely used for raw calculation. In today’s age, we’re even looking into the realm of studies like artificial intelligence, where computers can simulate human thoughts and actions. In fact, there are even programs out there today which can take in chapters of a book and write a chapter for you, just following the author’s style! Plot and everything!
Today, Lovelace is famous in the world of computing. Her hardship and perseverance through all her obstacles have inspired millions to take up the science of programming. Ada Lovelace Day is celebrated annually on October 13th.