Women Can Code

Ada King (Countess of Lovelace) was the only legitimate child of Lord Byron, the famous English poet. One month after Ada was born, her father abandoned her mother and her. Her mother was bitter and she promoted Ada’s interests in mathematics in order to avoid her father’s worthless occupation as a poet.

As a Countess, Ada had contact with leading scholars, one of whom was Charles Babbage. She was especially interested in Babbage’s work. Babbage developed what is called a difference engine to calculate mathematical tables used in navigation and engineering. The difference engine was developed to correct the errors when the calculations were done by hand. Babbage later proposed a more complex machine called the analytical engine which had a broader capability for computing.

Ada took Babbage’s ideas for the analytical engine and developed an algorithm to compute Bernoulli numbers. This was the first algorithm ever developed for a computer. Ada is generally thought to be the first computer programmer.

Ada, more than Babbage, saw the expansive applications for computers. She was 100 years before her time. What Ada saw in 1843 was the ability of computers to perform a wide variety of functions. Unfortunately, she died at the age of 36 and didn’t see the expanded application of what she started.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Department of Defense developed a programming language to replace 450 languages used throughout the DOD. The language was called Ada, in honor of Ada King.

Progress often comes from collaborations of those who have original ideas and those who can extend those ideas into other applications. Babbage had the original idea, but it was Ada King who was able to conceive a much broader application of what Babbage conceived.

While Lord Byron was only in Ada’s life for four months, he had a profound influence on her life. Certainly, her interest in mathematics was stimulated by her mother’s disdain for her father’s life as a poet. But Lord Byron also gave Ada access to prominent thinkers who stimulated her creative curiosity.

Just imagine the creative spark which led Ada to conceive much broader applications in Babbage’s machine. What challenges might she have faced as a woman in a field of endeavor that was so male-dominated? How many innovations have been delayed because of the lack of acceptance of women in male-dominated fields of study?

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                “Innovation is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”  – Albert Einstein

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