World’s First Computer Programmer

Ada Byron (1815-1852)

Daughter of a brief marriage between the Romantic poet Lord Byron and Anne Isabelle Milbanke, who separated from Byron just a month after Ada was born. Four months later, Byron left England forever. Lady Byron wished her daughter to be unlike her poetical father, and she saw to it that Ada received tutoring in mathematics and music, as disciplines to counter dangerous poetic tendencies.

Mother and daughter were part of the elite London society where the participation of noblewomen in intellectual pursuits was not widely encouraged but in 1828, Ada produced the design for a flying machine. But it was mathematics that gave her life wings.

Married to William King in 1835 at the age of 20, Ada became the Countess of Lovelace in 1838. She had three children and the family and its fortunes were very much directed by Lady Byron.(1)

Lovelace was a brilliant mathematician and understood that numbers could be used to represent more than just quantities: they could represent data, as well. She found a kindred spirit in Cambridge professor Charles Babbage, and added notes to his theoretical paper for an Analytical Engine – the world’s first general purpose computer – before publication in 1843. She helped him see that a machine designed to read numbers could also be made to manipulate any data represented by those numbers. She even thought machines like that could compose music, produce graphics, and aid in scientific research… and she was proven right over 100 years later.(2)

Unfortunately none of Babbage’s machines were built in his lifetime as they required advanced construction techniques beyond the scope of engineering of the day.               AdaLovelaceplaque

The computer language ADA is named after Ada. It was created on behalf of the United States Department of Defense, the reference manual being approved in 1980.

This exotic figure in the history of computing is honored with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at 12 St. James’s Square, SW1.(3)




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