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Get to know Ada Lovelace

By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise

Ada Lovelace is celebrated as one of the first computer programmers on the second Tuesday of October. She was born in 1815, well before modern computers were invented, which makes her feat that much more impressive.

She was born Augusta Ada Byron but referred to ‘Ada’ by her father. Her parents separated when she was a few weeks old. Often sick and bedridden as a child, she kept busy studying. She had several tutors teaching her mathematics and science, along with her own reading. In 1835 she married William King, who was named Earl of Lovelace a few years later making Ada, Countess of Lovelace.

Ada Lovelace was fascinated by advancing scientific knowledge and followed many fads of the time. She was close friends with Charles Babbage, known as the ‘father of computers’, who had designed a machine called the difference engine intended to perform simple polynomial calculations. This machine preceded the Analytical Engine, which had a more sophisticated design. Beginning in 1942, Lovelace spent most of a year translating an article written by mathematician Luigi Menabrea about the Analytical Engine and made extensive notes. Her notes ended up longer than the actual article she was translating. In her notes, she made an algorithm that could program the machine to calculate Bernoulli numbers. This algorithm is considered one of the first computer programs ever written and published, making Lovelace one of the first computer programmers. Her friend and colleague, Babbage, also had similar notes written in personal journals but were never published. Even if others of the time also had programs written, she was the first published and the first woman programmer.

Lovelace not only wrote the Bernoulli number calculating algorithm, but she also spoke often of the other implications of technology other than simple computing. She believed that computers could use numbers to represent other objects such as music notes, letters, or symbols and inferred how society could use technology as a collaborative tool.

Lovelace passed away in 1852 due to uterine cancer at the age of 36. She would never see how her ideas put into motion the modern computer and technology of today. Many regard her as the first computer programmer and she is celebrated each October in hopes of inspiring more women in mathematics and computer programming.

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