Today, the world marks the legacy of the world’s first ‘computer programmer’ – a Victorian aristocrat of the mid 19th Century, who also happened to be a woman.
So – happy Ada Lovelace Day - an international celebration of the achievements of all women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
Ada Lovelace was a close collaborator with Charles Babbage, a visionary computer science pioneer who came up with the idea of what he called The Difference Engine – a prototype computing device.
Babbage lacked the engineering capacity in his day to fully realise his vision - but Lovelace, a daughter of flamboyant poet Lord Byron, was the first to grasp that Babbage’s machine could handle any sort of information, not just numbers.
She is also credited with coming up with the first ever algorithm in 1843, in the sense of a logical process for performing a specific task using such a ‘computer.’
Commenting on Lovelace’s legacy, Timo Hannay, Managing Director of Digital Science, a technology company serving the needs of scientific research, notes that, “[Ada] was the first person to recognise that ‘numbers’ being calculated could represent a vast range of things in the physical world - making computers potentially useful not just to mathematics, but to anyone.
“Ada also worked in an environment that, to put it mildly, hindered the intellectual and vocational progress of women. Society has changed since then - as has science. Women are just as committed and capable as men when it comes to building a career and having a positive impact on the world.”
But Hanny added that as well as remembering Lovelace’s achievements, “we must also use the day as a broader celebration of women in STEM and look to the future.”
He points out that government figures show that women hold just 15.5% of jobs in STEM fields (http://www.nationalstemcentre.org.uk/stem-in-context/careers) – mirroring what seems to be endemic sexual inequality in the IT industry (http://www.24n.biz/news/it-sector-still-plagued-by-incidents-of-sexism-less-than-half-of-workers-would-report-an-incident.html).
“There is more we can be doing as an industry to encourage and highlight the best women in science,” he added.