Although women have begun to filter into the tech field over the last couple of decades, the state of affairs is still appalling. The Council of Economic Advisors reports that women earn 79 cents on the dollar compared to men, while various studies indicate that women hold only about 25 percent of the jobs in information technology.
As experts debate how to get more girls and women interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), it’s also important to recognize the pioneers who helped break down some of the barriers.
One of the most prominent is Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace, a.k.a. Ada Lovelace. The English mathematician and writer, who lived from 1815 to 1852 (and was the daughter of poet Lord Byron), worked on Charles Babbage’s early mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine.
Lovelace is often referred to as the first computer programmer. She wrote what is generally considered the first algorithm intended to run on a machine. She also worked to develop mathematical code that could be used to win at gambling, and she theorized a repeat set of computer instructions that has come to be known as “looping,” which is widely used in today’s computing systems.
Remarkably—or perhaps not, considering Lovelace was a woman—her contributions to the computing field were largely unknown until the 1950s. Her notes were reintroduced in 1953 by English scientist and educator B.V. Bowden.
Since, then Lovelace has received a slew of posthumous awards and been recognized as a tech pioneer, as well as an ideal for women in STEM. In 1980, the U.S. Department of Defense dubbed a newly developed computer language “Ada.”
Lovelace has inspired women around the globe, including Lindsay Reinsmith, Ada Diamonds co-founder and COO. The firm supports initiatives, such as the Lovelace Medal and Ada Lovelace Day, to advance computing and women in STEM. The latter includes special events celebrating the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“Lady Ada Lovelace was a brilliant 19th century mathematician, mother and musician,” Reinsmith says. She “saw the future of computing as a combination of science and art.
October 11, 2016, was Ada Lovelace Day. A century ago, the first women became Fellows in the Royal Astronomical Society. The date now commemorates the achievements of women in science. It’s a historic moment—one that we should all take time to compute.