In 1815, over a century before the first computer was invented, the world of science and technology was forever changed by the birth of Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace.
Known today simply as Ada Lovelace, Ada was born on December 10 in London. She was the daughter of famed poet Lord Byron and his wife Anne Isabella Milbanke. Her parents’ marriage, however, didn’t last long and after Anne left Lord Byron in early 1816, Ada never saw her father again. From a young age, Ada was fascinated with mathematics and science, a fascination that was nurtured and encouraged by her mother. Along with many other accomplishments, she is considered the first person to ever write a computer program in the 19th century.
In 2009, the second Tuesday of every October was declared ‘Ada Lovelace Day’. It is not only a day to celebrate the life and legacy of Ada Lovelace, but a day to celebrate the achievements of women in science and technology from all over the world. It is also a day for parents, teachers, mentors (everyone, really) to encourage and help develop girls’ interest in science and technology, just like Ada’s mother encouraged and developed hers.
Jess Wade, a postdoctoral researcher in the field of plastic electronics at Imperial College London’s Blackett Laboratory, writes, “We can all make efforts to make sure there are more people like Lovelace. We can get better at encouraging interdisciplinary learning and the importance of creative and technical skills. We can work harder to involve parents and teachers in conversations about stereotyping and bias, as their influence has a profound impact on young people’s self-concept, as Lovelace’s mother did on her.”
Ada Lovelace Day is very much needed because it highlights a role model who girls and women can look up to. Ada was a daughter, wife, and mother to three children. But she was also educated, smart, analytical, confident and determined. Before STEM was even a term, Ada proved that women can succeed in the fields it stands for. And the more women we have working in STEM fields, the better off we all will be because diversity is needed in order for science and technology to keep moving forward.
To solve problems, innovate new ideas and face the challenges of the 21st century, brilliant minds – of both men and women – must have a seat at the table. It matters that more women get involved in STEM fields to keep such advancements moving progressively. Additionally, companies that invest in having more diverse teams are shown to be more profitable. According to a 2015 McKinsey report, “companies in the top quartile of gender diversity were 15% more likely to have above-median financial returns, relative to their national industry median.”
While her work was not properly appreciated during her time, today, Ada Lovelace is regarded as one of the most important and influential women in STEM. Her unique and brilliant life is one reason the push for more girls and women to be involved in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics must continue.