#STEAMspotlight: Ada Lovelace – The First Computer Programmer

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Written by Kristin Kish, Digital Marketing Intern.

#STEAMspotlight is a series highlighting past and present STEAM pioneers—the scientists, techies, engineers, artists and mathematicians who continue to inspire future generations. 

STEAMspotlight - Ada Lovelace
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

A key figure in computer history, British mathematician and writer Ada Lovelace was born December 10, 1815 in London, England. And since today would have been her 201st birthday, we are busy celebrating the gifted and visionary Ada, who is often regarded as the first computer programmer.

Born Augusta Ada Byron, Ada was the daughter of Annabella, Lady Wentworth and George, Lord Byron, the famed Romantic poet. At her mother’s insistence, Ada was immersed in mathematics and science, beginning tutoring at the age of four. These subjects were unusual for a 19th century girl to study—they were usually deemed “too challenging.” As for Ada? She was hooked. She loved learning, showing an early and uncanny knack for both numbers and language.

When Ada was 17 years old, she met Charles Babbage, an inventor and mathematician widely considered to be “the father of computing.” Ada was instantly captivated by Charles’ unique ideas and inventions, and developed a particular interest in his calculating engine—an early mechanical general-purpose computer called the Analytical Engine. While Charles’ machine was never actually built, the concept itself was revolutionary.

As you can imagine, the like-minded thinkers became fast friends and soon began working together. After becoming Charles’ protégé, Ada translated the French transcript of an important lecture delivered by Charles. Ada added her own ideas to the article—first written by mathematician Luigi Federico Menabrea—making it three times longer. These thoughts and ideas would later cement Ada’s reputation as a pioneer of the computer age. In her notes, Ada mentioned how Charles’ Analytical Engine could be coded to calculate letters, symbols and numbers—written instructions that are now considered to be the first-ever computer program.

STEAMspotlight - Ada Lovelace - Painting

Ada’s visionary predictions went unnoticed during her lifetime. It was not until the 1950s that her contributions to computer science were discovered, and since then she has received many posthumous honors for her work. In 1980, the U.S. Department of Defense named a new computer language “Ada” in honor of Ada Lovelace.

Today, on her 201st birthday, we celebrate Ada Lovelace for her accomplishments—and for doing what she loved. Even if her interests were deemed “unusual” or “challenging.” Even if her ideas went unnoticed. She did what she loved, and in doing so, she left her mark and paved the way for future generations.

To this day, Ada’s legacy continues to inspire girls, women and computer programmers around the world. And that includes us here at Thinkery, too.

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