First in their Field: Ada Lovelace

The world’s first computer programmer was not only a woman but lived in a time before for computers were invented.

Ada_Byron_aged_seventeen_(1832).jpgBorn into a scholarly family Ada Lovelace unraveled fascinating skills at a young age. Ada Lovelace received both formal and informal education, some from her mother who was a mathematician and her father a poet. She was provided a tutor who helped in the development of her math skills her mother quickly noticed this and watered this skill until Ada’s thoughts fully bloomed. Ada developed a harmonious combination of poetic thinking and mathematical passion in her analysis and explanations of concepts aided in predicting outcomes.

Ada was fascinated by Charles Babbage work especially his first machine that was arranged with most mathematical concepts. Her work and skills were not unnoticed as she later acquired lectures and witness of his idea she though marvelous as others greatly questioned. Babbage’s shared his idea and work for an Analytical Engine that had the capacity to calculate simple equations handle trig, log scale, combinations of polynomials, exponents and more. Through a card system, it could store numbers then continue to use them and arranging them in certain order to compute long operations. Ada received a variety of sample selection Babbage had worked on for her notes and she saw some flaws. With the little information given she wrote to Babbage and advised to halt on the publication of his book; her ideas led to modifications but needed more information and asked for a copy of the engine’s formula and data to properly intergrade Bernoulli numbers. With the information, she had she could make her own tables and diagrams that revealed how the engine would calculate Bernoulli’s numbers.

Diagram_for_the_computation_of_Bernoulli_numbers.jpgHer notes reflect the appreciation she had for math and explained how the machine could only follow analysis not create new ones. Ada saw the machine as an opportunity to aid in the calculating and combining formulas in reach of human capacity only much faster. Ada predicted the machine would assist in practical and scientific use and could compose music and make graphics. This is recognized as the first computer language used by the department of defense today.


Marcy Corona, Women’s Museum of California Intern

Interested in learning about more women who were first in their field? Check out the Women’s Museum of California digital timeline

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