Last night a friend and I were discussing last weekend’s Google gender equality issue and their treatment of the male employee who published his thoughts. My friend commented that the sexism is common in Silicon Valley, and offered an alternative response Google could have given. One that would have gone a long way to ending the gender issues: teaching history.
Many of the men trampling on women to maintain their sense of superiority are forgetting Ada Lovelace. She was just the first computer programmer. And that she is correct. The first programmer was female. James Damore’s claim that women are biologically incapable of understanding technology is invalid when the first programmer was a woman. But my friend also made a valid point: not enough people know about Ada Lovelace.
Let’s change that. Let me introduce Ada Lovelace to you.
Who is Ada Lovelace?
This should really be in past tense. Ada was born in 1815 and died in 1852. Yes, she was only 36 years old when she died of cancer. While she was considered a leading mathematician at the time, now she would be average. However, I’d love to see what Ada could have done with the technology of today. OK, well, we wouldn’t have the technology of today if Ada was current time, but you know what I mean.
Yes, it was unusual for a woman to have an advanced education; she was born into privilege. Her father was Lord Byron (the poet). Except Lord Byron was a pretty pathetic father and when Ada was a month old he sent Ada and her mother away. He had a string of children to other women, but being a parent wasn’t really his thing. Ada’s mother was worried Ada would turn out like her father and forced math and science on her. Thus the nerdy knowledge.
At the same age I was reading the Babysitters Club Books, Ada was writing her first book: Flyology. It was a fully researched study into making wings so she could fly. She looked at different shapes and materials. Paper, oilsilk, wires, and feathers were all deemed good. Much more impressive than my concern about Maryanne’s clothing restrictions. Flyology actually lead Charles Babbage to nickname her Lady Fairy.
The First Computer Programmer
We all know of Charles Babbage as creating the computer, but it’s Ada who realized the potential of the analytical engine over the difference engine. Ada was translating an Italian article for Charles, and adding her notes. They worked together on several projects. The notes ended making the article three times the original size, because of Ada’s deeper understanding of the project. And this is in a time when women were more suppressed. Yeah, take that! A BBC podcast recently reported that Charles Babbage often didn’t acknowledge some of Ada’s ideas, so she added them, snarkily as footnotes. Hehe.
At this point you’re probably saying that Ada Lovelace was probably a grumpy spinster, but no. She married, birthed three children, had a few affairs, and created a mathematic model for gambling. Unfortunately, she wasn’t as successful on the last and piled up gambling debts.
All this was before her death at 36. She was five years younger than I am now and achieved so much more. I’d say that the technology and knowledge I have access to now probably equals the privilege she had. Her choices beat mine. And I’m thankful for that.
Remembering Ada Lovelace
To be fair, someone else probably would have eventually developed the same theories, that Ada did. Eventually. We can just be grateful she did and recognize the work she did to advance computing before computing was even a thing. So next time a tech-bro claims to be superior based on their genitals, just ask them who was the first computer programmer… then smirk and walk away. They’re jerks anyway.
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