Ada Lovelace
Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace (December 10, 1815 – November 27, 1852)
Computer programming was not a concept in the early 1800s, but that didn’t stop Ada Lovelace from seeing that it was quite possible.

Lovelace, who was born Augusta Ada Byron, was the daughter of the Romantic poet Lord Byron and Anne Isabella Milbanke. Her parents’ marriage was brief and disastrous—so disastrous that when it ended, her mother insisted that her daughter study mathematics so that she would not have the artistic temperament of her poet father. Fortunately, Ada had a natural aptitude for numbers.

At the age of 17, Ada met Charles Babbage. Babbage was a professor of mathematics at Cambridge and became a correspondent with Ada on math and logic. Even after marrying (and officially becoming the Countess of Lovelace) and having three children, she used the ideas she learned from Babbage to pursue her interest in mathematics.

Babbage called Ada “The Enchantress of Numbers” and he enlisted his lifelong friend to expand his short article on his plans for an Analytical Engine that would be a new kind of calculating machine. He asked for her help because she understood the machine so well. In fact, she understood it so well that she rightfully predicted it had many uses beyond what Babbage saw. Her article, called “Sketch of the Analytical Engine, with Notes from the Translator,” was three times longer than Babbage’s article and extremely detailed. She wrote that the machine “might act upon other things besides numbers… the Engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.”

So while Babbage had actually sketched out the device, it was Lovelace’s elaborate explanation—and particularly her description of an algorithm that was the first ever intended for a computing machine—which explains why she is called “the first computer programmer.” While there continues to be debate by historians and mathematicians over how much Ada contributed, Babbage said she was the only person he knew capable of such excellent descriptions of his machine.

In the end, and against the intentions of her mother, Ada was as creative as her father, though her vision was expressed with numbers instead of words.