This year, it is on October 16th 2012, that we celebrate Ada Lovelace Day -- an international day celebrating the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and math.
As I reflect on the achievements of Ada Lovelace, credited as the first computer programmer, I cannot help but feel inspired to reach out to more women and encourage woman involvement in STEM initiatives.
Ada Lovelace is widely considered to be the first computer programmer. Née Ada Gordan in 1815, she was the only legitimate child of Lord Byron. Her mother raised her with a focus on mathematics, fearing she would otherwise end up like her unpredictable poet father. After marrying aristocrat William King, who later became Earl of Lovelace in 1838, Ada became Lady Ada King, Countess of Lovelace. In 1833 she was introduced to Charles Babbage, who had plans for something he called the Analytical Engine. This engine was never built, but had all the essential elements of a modern computer. Charles Baggage affectionately called Ada the "Enchantress of Numbers," as her capabilities astounded him and many others.
It was in 1842 that Ada translated an article by an Italian mathematician, Luigi Menabrea, about the Analytical Engine, that her mathematical prowess and intellect was truly highlighted. Her "translation" of the article was three times longer than the original article, and included many original works of hers including "computer programs" and observations for potential uses of the machine, including manipulating symbols and creating music. This article was published, leading her to be credited as the first computer programmer.
Today, there are many female computer programmers, though unfortunately, there are not as many as their male counterparts. Ada stands as an important symbol that women's contributions are crucial for technology, and we should do our best to encourage more women involvement in these fields.
I founded the tuition-free, non-profit University of the People (UoPeople.org) to open access to higher education for all around the world. We teach Computer Science and Business Administration because these are the degrees best able to prepare our graduates to attain the most in-demand jobs. However, we are sadly witnessing drastically more males than female students in our student body, especially in computer science. We would like to change this ratio and encourage more women around the world to pursue STEM-type higher education and careers.
Ada Lovelace can serve as an inspirational role model for women of all ages as they progress forward with their dreams and aspirations in science, technology, engineering and math. Let Ada inspire many more modern-day "Enchantresses of Numbers" to come to light.