Lord Byron’s daughter Ada Lovelace is often considered the world’s first computer programmer.
Source: Original photo by Sahand Babali/ Unsplash

Lord Byron’s daughter Ada Lovelace is often considered the world’s first computer programmer.

The famous poet Lord Byron once wrote of his daughter Ada that he hoped “the gods have made her anything save poetical — it is enough to have one such fool in the family.” He got his wish. Instead, Ada Lovelace followed a path many considered impossible for a woman in the early 19th century. Encouraged by her mother, Lady Byron, Lovelace developed a passion for mathematics at a young age. In 1833, a 17-year-old Lovelace met British mathematician Charles Babbage at a party, and he told her about a calculating machine he’d created called the Difference Engine. Fascinated, Lovelace eventually began a regular correspondence with Babbage.

The machine that inspired one of Babbage’s early “computers” was a cloth-making loom.
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Incorrect.
It's a Fact
Using punch cards, Joseph-Marie Jacquard’s loom automated the creation of patterned cloth, and Babbage’s Analytical Engine used a similar method. Ada Lovelace once wrote that “the Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns, just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves.”

About a decade later, while translating a French text regarding Babbage’s proposed Analytical Engine — often considered the first mechanical computer — Lovelace added a few notes of her own. “Note G” detailed a method through which Babbage’s creation could calculate complex numbers called Bernoulli numbers. This is often considered the world’s first computer program, making Lovelace the first computer programmer. While Babbage was the brains behind the machine, Lovelace was the one who truly grasped its wider importance, foreseeing a future where engines could use the “abstract science of operations” to do things beyond mere computation — like composing complex music, for example. It took the world nearly a century to catch up to her vision. 

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Numbers Don’t Lie
Approximate number of individual parts needed to build Babbage’s original Difference Engine
25,000
Amount Ada’s translated text featuring the first computer program sold for at auction in 2018
$125,000
Year the U.S. Department of Defense named its new programming language “Ada” in Lovelace’s honor
1979
Number of programming languages throughout computing history, according to online roster HOPL
8,945
Charles Babbage called Ada Lovelace the _______.
Charles Babbage called Ada Lovelace the Enchantress of Number.
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Think Twice
Many early computer programmers were women.

In the 1940s and ’50s, engineering computers was perceived as a man’s profession, but programming them was considered secretarial. As a result, many women took jobs as programmers — helping Alan Turing crack the Enigma Machine during World War II, writing instructions for the world’s first general-purpose computer called ENIAC, and creating the world’s first compiler (a program that translates programming languages into machine languages). According to government data, in 1960 around 27% of programmers were women. In 2013, that number was 26% and falling. Today, many leading universities are working hard to reverse that trend.

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