Ada Lovelace, known as the First Computer Programmer, was born on 10 December 1815 in London to the then famous poet Lord Byron and Anne Isabella Milbanke. After a month of her birth, Ada and her mother were abandoned by Byron, who left England and later died in Greece.
Although formal education was quite unusual for women in that era, Ada was put to home tuitions on Mathematics and Science since a very early age by her mother, because she considered it to be way of keeping Ada away from developing the traits of her father that had led to his insane behavior. This helped Ada in flourishing her skills for numbers.
The life changing event that led Ada onto becoming a great mathematician and programmer was when she met Charles Babbage (the inventor of first mechanical computer; the difference engine) in 1833 at the age of 17.
Ada was given the opportunity of seeing a small scale version of the difference engine, study its documents and understand its operation. She continued her studies in mathematics with the great mathematician Mary Somerville; who helped her understand modern mathematics and solve difficult problems.
She discontinued with her passion for mathematics at the age of 19, when she got married to William King, the Earl of Lovelace in 1835 and became countess of Lovelace after three years. Still having keen interest in mathematics and Charles Babbage’s difference engine, Ada resumed her learning under Mary Somerville and Professor Augustus De Morgan in 1841.
By then, Charles Babbage had started working on another great and advanced invention, the analytical engine. An Italian Engineer, Luigi Federico Menabrea had produced an article titled as “Sketch of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine” for a Swiss journal. Ada translated it into English along with some additional notes on her own understanding and calculations for working of the engine. Some of the things that she included in her notes and that allowed Ada to be known as the world’s first computer programmer include:
- The Bernoulli number algorithm
- A method through which the engine can repeat a series of instructions.
- Codes in the engine that can lead it to work on not just numbers but also convert other disciplines like alphabets, music etc. into numerical data.
Her notes were greatly acknowledged by Babbage and were published in an English science journal in 1843.
Unfortunately, not much work was done on Ada’s ideas at that time. But her vision of engines performing beyond a calculator proved to be practical and got translated into reality by later mathematicians and scientists. One of those was Alan Turing, a scientist who came about 90 years after Ada Lovelace. Ada’s notes were amongst the writings he studied as a young scientist. Later, he came forth with the idea of The Universal Turing Machine, which proved to be the origin of modern computers. In 1953, a scientist B.V. Bowden presented her idea again by getting her article republished in Faster Than Thought: A Symposium on Digital Computing Machines. In 1980, a new computer language was developed which was named as ‘Ada’ after her, by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Ada Lovelace died very young, at the age of 32. In 1852, she was afflicted with uterine cancer which took her life on November 27, in London. Fulfilling her wish, she was buried in Nottingham, in the graveyard of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene beside her father’s grave.