Computer Programming: Women Did It First

by Maggie Carr

Women can’t do math? Child, please. Exhibit A: English mathematician Ada Lovelace, whose 197th birthday is being celebrated today with a Google Doodle, was the world’s first computer programmer. Ever.

Ada was raised by a single mom—herself a talented mathematician—who was determined to give her daughter the most extensive scientific education possible to counteract the, er, artistic tendencies she inherited from her father.

She adopted Charles Babbage’s theoretical Analytical Engine (a precursor to the modern computer, pictured above) as her pet project: she brainstormed potential uses for the engine and wrote its most elaborate—and first published—programs. Ada went on to work closely with Babbage, who touted her as one of the most brilliant mechanical minds he’d ever encountered…and Alan Turing, inventor of the first modern computers, cited Lovelace’s notes as one of his main inspirations. Badass.

Sadly, Ada’s brilliant mathematical career was cut short when she died of cancer at age 36. We may not know what else this brainiac might have done, but I wouldn’t have the computer I’m using to write this piece without Lovelace’s skills.

 

Celebrate this math-minded pioneer by reading up on badass female techies who made (and are still making) history–or just check Kate Beaton’s guffaw-worthy take on the Byron-Lovelace ladies. Happy birthday, Ada!

 

Images via chronarion.org and google.com

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