This year marks the seventh annual Ada Lovelace Day which celebrates women who work within STEM fields. You can learn more about the history of the event here.
Ada Lovelace (Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, that is) is known as the world’s first computer programmer. The daughter of Lord Byron (yes, the Lord Byron), Ada was interested in math and science from a very young age. She and her mother, Anne Isabella Milbanke, were estranged from Lord Byron her entire life. Ada’s aptitude for the sciences were encouraged by her mother. She was ill on a regular basis her but continued her studies on the insistence of her mother, who was trying to stave off any sign of insanity (passed down from Lord Byron) in her daughter.
Ada met computer pioneer Charles Babbage in 1833 and their professional relationship progressed over the next few years. Babbage was impressed by Ada’s mind for numbers.
Between 1842 and 1843, Ada worked with Babbage on his concept of the Analytical Engine, an early version of the computer. (Later, Alan Turing would build something similar to Babbage’s concept in order to crack the communication code Nazis were using during WWII.)
“Ada was later asked to translate an article on Babbage’s analytical engine that had been written by Italian engineer Luigi Federico Menabrea for a Swiss journal. She not only translated the original French text in English, but also added her own thoughts and ideas on the machine. Her notes ended up being three times longer than the original article. Her work was published in 1843, in an English science journal…
In her notes, Ada described how codes could be created for the device to handle letters and symbols along with numbers. She also theorized a method for the engine to repeat a series of instructions, a process known as looping that computer programs use today. Ada also offered up other forward-thinking concepts in the article.” (Source: Biography.com)
Her work attracted little attention while she was alive and Babbage’s Analytical Engine was never completed. Unfortunately, her promising career as a gifted mathematician was cut short. Ada Lovelace died of uterine cancer in 1852 at the age of 36.