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ADA Lovelace: First Computer Programmer

Augusta Ada King, countess of Lovelace, who has come to be commonly known as Ada Lovelace, is considered by many to have been the first computer programmer. A popular English socialite who also happened to be the daughter of the famous romantic poet Lord Byron, Ada Byron worked primarily with another famous name in computer science history: Charles Babbage. Her mother, Anne Milbanke, who separated from Byron one month after Ada was born, wanted to steer her daughter away from poetic pursuits. Ada was born in 1815, and her last name became King in 1835 when she married William King, who would later become the Earl of Lovelace. She died of cancer at age 36. Her short life was busy; she had three children while still being a pioneer of scientific computing. Her scientific achievements were forgotten for many years until technological achievements made Babbage’s machines, and her mathematical algorithms, more relevant.

Using what she dubbed “poetical science,” her algorithms and notes about the mechanical analytical machine would expand the scope of the project from what was essentially a mechanical calculator to a general-purpose computer. In other words, while Charles Babbage designed the hardware for the difference and analytical engines, Ada helped to develop the software. These mathematical notes are considered to be the first “program” because they are the first set of instructions to be fed into a mechanical computer. Some people have attested that Babbage’s role was more prominent than that of the countess in the development of this program, but since then, more evidence has arisen describing a partnership where they both worked in tandem. Also, there can be no question that she was the original author of these notes. She both interpreted and expounded upon Babbage’s work, often serving as an advocate. She once asserted that a more evolved version of the analytical engine could one day be used to compose music, produce graphics, and for many other purposes. She was right.

  • Ada Lovelace (video): This video expounds upon the environment in which Ada entered the scene and how she wrote the first computer program.
  • Ada and the World’s First Computer (PDF): The writings of Ada and Charles Babbage described how to program the first computer.
  • The History of Computing: Find out how her and her colleague’s notes fit into the timeline of the greater history of computing here.
  • Babbage’s Analytical Engine (1834-71): Babbage’s engine is considered to be the first calculating machine, and Ada’s algorithms for it are thought to be the first computer program.

Today, Ada Lovelace has become a source of inspiration for women looking to start in the fields of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). She made great strides, especially during a time when women were considered to be more emotional than analytical. For many decades, her work was under appreciated. Later on, her work would gain more recognition in the field of computer science, and a software language would be named after her in 1979. She inspired a legacy of women in computer science, paving the way for women like Edith Clarke, Grace Hopper, Maria Klawe, and the original ENIAC programmers. Ada Lovelace Day is now celebrated the world over to promote and celebrate women in STEM.