Ada Lovelace Day 2016: international celebration of women in STEM

News by Danielle Correa

Today, 11 October 2016, marks an international day of celebration of women in STEM and the achievements of Lord Byron's daughter, Ada Lovelace, the world's first computer programmer.

Women only represent 26 percent of IT workers, and just 10 percent of the cyber-security workforce. However, back in 1843, she was the woman who had remarkable insights into what a computer would be, how it would work and the potential it would have to transform society.


Ada Lovelace, born 10 December 1815 and the only child of Lord Byron and Annabella Milbanke, was introduced to men of science throughout her childhood as opposed to those in the arts or society.

At the age of 17, Lovelace met the mathematician and polymath Charles Babbage in London.


Babbage had borrowed from the Jacquard loom the idea of using punched cards to store data and control an ‘analytical engine' in which these punched cards were comparable to the punched cards used from the mid-20th century to input data into computer programs. Lovelace wrote the first computational program for this ‘Engine', which was never built.


Lovelace saw much further than Babbage did on what a working computer would really do such as controlling all kinds of social processes, not only mathematical ones, and even compose music.


Today, 11 October marks Ada Lovelace Day, a day in which programmers and women in technology across the globe celebrate women in STEM and embrace Lovelace's achievements as the world's first computer programmer.


Lovelace has a crucial computer language named after her. James Essinger's Ada's Algorithm: How Lord Byron's daughter Ada Lovelace Launched the Digital Age through the Poetry of Numbers has been published today by Gibson Square.


Essinger stated, “Ada was chauvinistically seen by most computer scientists, many of who are male of course, as being of little importance to Babbage's work. One computer scientist, the late Bruce Collier, went so far as to write in his thesis in 1990 that she was ‘as mad as a hatter' and that she was a nuisance to Babbage. It is only during the past five years ago that the mainstream opinion about Ada has changed, and that the core of her achievement – that she saw that Babbage's Analytical Engine – an early form of digital computer – could be used as a general-purpose machine even though Babbage only saw it as a calculating machine.”

“It's a societal problem that women are being put off. We must do more to promote STEM careers for women,” said Carron Shankland, professor of computing science at the University of Stirling.

“The lesson is that women should never be put off from starting careers in those areas. I believe that women often have a particularly important role to play in science and engineering as they can bring their emotional intelligence, which is usually superior to men's (e.g. most of the women I know are more emotionally intelligent than I am) to bear on science and engineering and can often consequently have insights which men may not necessarily have,” Essinger said.


Lovelace “made the conceptual leap from machines that were mere calculators to the ones that we now call computers,” said Walter Isaacson in his book The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.

Stephanie Daman, CEO of the Cyber Security Challenge UK told “While much has changed since the days of Ada Lovelace, we still, year after year, see a lack of girls taking up STEM subjects. This year's GCSE and A Level results showed an encouraging rise in the number of students studying computing, engineering and science courses but the gender still needs some work."

Daman continued: “All jobs require individuals from different backgrounds to bring new perspectives and skills, much in the way Ada did with her complex concepts around computing. Through initiatives like the girls days and schools events that Cyber Security Challenge UK and others host, we need to encourage as many young people to take up STEM subjects, regardless of gender or background.”

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Video and interviews