Who was Ada Lovelace?
Ada Lovelace, born The Honourable Augusta Ada Byron, in 1815, was the only daughter of Lord Byron and his mathematics enthused wife, Annabella Milbanke. Born to an unhappy marriage, Ada barely knew her father and was raised alone by her mother, a philanthropist, and activist, with her grandmother’s help.
Born in an era in which most women were denied education, Ada was educated at home. She took a particular interest in mathematics, taking after her mother, and showed little interest in her father’s famous poetry.
How did Ada put her mathematical skills to use?
In 1833, Ada was introduced to Charles Babbage, an inventor, and professor of mathematics. He was impressed by her mathematic ability, likewise, she by his inventions, and they were to be friends for life. He described her as “the enchantress of numbers.”
She was particularly intrigued by Babbage’s plans for a machine he called the Analytical Engine. This invention was a type of computing machine that had all the elements of a modern computer, including an arithmetical unit, conditional branching and loops, and integrated memory.
It was a progression from his previous government-funded invention, the Difference Engine. He had designed the Difference Engine to complete mathematical functions, which required ogarithmic or trigonometric functions that would usually be worked out by hand, using large tables of numbers.
Why is she known as the first female coder?
Lovelace studied Babbage’s plans for the Analytical Engine and became an expert in its workings. She later translated into English a paper written about the machine by an Italian engineer. As she knew the machine so well, she corrected errors throughout the article and added to it with her knowledge, eventually tripling the length of the paper.
The article she wrote contains many early computer programs and ideas about how the machine could eventually be used. For example, to manipulate symbols and create music.
What is her legacy?
Lovelace’s notes on the Analytical Engine were the first to be published, and, therefore, she is often known as “the first computer programmer.” However, she died only a few short years after publication, and as a result, her full potential is unknown.
The Analytical Engine was ultimately never made. However, Ada Lovelace’s notes on the machine became the inspiration to Alan Turing’s work on the first modern computer during the war in the 1940s.
She was a modern woman who broke convention at the time and refused to conform to the expectations of her gender. Unfortunately, history was not kind to her and often downplayed her achievements. It is only in recent years that her legacy has been given the credit it deserves. As a result, she is an inspiration and a key figure for women in STEM today.