Ada Byron Lovelace
The First Computer Programmer
1815 – 1852
Ada Byron Lovelace was one of the most charming personalities in computer history. She is known as a British mathematician, musician, and is best known as the first computer programmer. She wrote about Charles Babbage’s “Analytical Engine”, explaining the process with such clarity and precision that her work became the leading text explaining the process now known as computer programming. A software language that was developed in 1979 by the U.S. Department of Defense was named Ada in her honor.
Ada Byron Lovelace was born on December 10, 1815 to the famous poet, Lord Byron and Annabella Milbanke. Lord Byron was a strikingly handsome man who traveled widely and wrote his poetry with a biting criticism of British society. While he fell in love with Annabella, their marriage lasted only a year. Five weeks after Ada was born, Lady Bryon asked for a separation from her husband, and was given sole custody of the child. Lord Byron left for Italy and never returned to his home. He never saw his daughter again. He died in Greece when Ada was eight years old.
Ada was an active athletic child, loving gymnastics, dancing, and horseback riding. She became an accomplished musician, playing the piano, violin, and harp
As a teenager, Ada had all the advantages of the elite in London. She attended concerts, theaters, and elegant parties. She met many famous people, including the queen.
Even though she loved the arts, Ada was more interested in how things worked. She was fascinated by mechanical things and loved to figure out what make machines work. Lady Byron, being afraid that Ada would end up being a poet like her father, encouraged her daughter in her studies of mathematics and the sciences.
When she was seventeen years old, Ada met Mrs. Somerville, a remarkable woman who had just published a book on mathematical astronomy, “The Mechanism of the Heavens”. This woman became a mentor to Ada and while she encouraged the young lady in her mathematical studies, she also tried to put mathematics and technology in a human context. It was Mrs. Somerville who arranged for Ada to meet Lord William King, Earl of Lovelace, who was to later become her husband.
Ada met Charles Babbage at a dinner party put on by Mrs. Somerville. It was here that she first heard of Mr. Babbages Analytical Engine and Ada was intrigued by his ideas. As his idea progressed in later years, Ada suggested to Babbage that a plan be written for how the engine might calculate Bernoulli numbers. He commissioned Ada to write that plan, and this very plan is now considered the first “computer program”.
After she wrote the description of Babbage’s Analytical Engine, her life was difficult. She was plagued with illnesses and she died of cancer in 1852 at the age of 36.