I Learned Something Today.
First thing in the morning too, as I watched my seven-year-old daughter scroll through videos on the tablet while picking at her bacon and scrambled eggs. I learned about another young woman, a brilliant spark of life who pioneered the age in which we now live.
The age in which my little girl is able to use such a device!
And before this morning, I didn't even know who Ada Lovelace was... The first paragraph of Betsy Morais' article was all I needed to love her dearly.
When Ada Lovelace was twelve years old, she wanted to fly. She approached the problem methodically, examining birds and investigating various materials that could serve as wings—feathers, paper, silk.
But Who Is Ada Lovelace?
Born in 1815, Augusta Ada Byron (later the Countess of Lovelace) was the only legitimate child of the famous Romantic poet, Lord Byron. And, despite her mother's efforts to eliminate Lord Byron's fanciful influence, it is quite clear that little Ada inherited her father's intelligence and imagination.
What a wonderful anomaly she was (as are all the great, giant lights we read about).
A freak, some may say- even today- but Ada had a natural aptitude for learning, especially in mathematics, that was commonly seen as inappropriate for girls of the time.
Augusta Ada Lovelace is known as the first computer programmer, and, since 2009, she has been recognized annually on October 15th to highlight the often overlooked contributions of women to math and science.
And it's about time!
"Often overlooked contributions of women"... Answer: what are 'all things to which they have contributed'. Correct! I don't think you could possibly find a more overwhelming understatement if your life depended upon it.
It's disheartening that we need to be constantly reminded of the importance of women throughout history, and that we are compelled to dedicate one day a year to the appreciation of their contributions.
But so it is, until it's not (that will be a fine day, indeed). And commemorations like "Ada Lovelace Day"- every October 15th, since 2009- and writers like Betsy Morais will continue to enlighten us as to why it all matters.
I started to think that one of the biggest parts of the problem was that women in tech are often invisible,” Suw Charman-Anderson, the founder of Ada Lovelace Day, told me.
As I finished that first article this morning- a fortuitous accident in its own right- a stroke of pure serendipity would have another piece about Ada Lovelace appear in my news feed.
This one, written by Esther McVey, shared the same common sense and echoed Charman-Anderson's sentiments.
Throughout history, women's contributions across all aspects of life have been hidden, downplayed or forgotten. But they are vitally important.
Feminism: Catching On
And Ada Lovelace Day has certainly done a lot of heavy lifting in the last nine years, in terms of bridging that gap and bringing Ada into the popular scientific conversation.
Since that initial push for her well-deserved recognition, there have been several excellent books written which either revolve around her life and contributions or at least include her among the chief pioneers of computer science.
The 2015 biography, "Ada's Algorithm: How Lord Byron's Daughter Ada Lovelace Launched the Digital Age", by James Essinger, is one of the most successful in the bunch. And her most notable inclusion is in Walter Isaacson's book, "The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution".
It hasn't stopped there either...
We're now learning about other women throughout history who have made important contributions. Grace Hopper is a good example- one of the original programming language pioneers after the Second World War.
There have been a few books written about this brilliant mathematician as well, the first of which was a biography called "Grace Hopper: Admiral of the Cyber Sea". And both Hopper and Lovelace were featured in a recent book called "Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet", by Claire Evans.
So the floodgates have opened. And, as I said earlier, it's about damn time!
I don't think there could have been a better catalyst for this women's movement in computer science than Ada Lovelace either, I must say. Not only was she a brilliant thinker and mathematician- and the precursor to computing as we know it- but she stepped gracefully into this role at a time when women were little to no more than a commodity.
We may undervalue women still today, but their relative worth only two centuries ago was truly pitiful. We have come a long way.
A new, a vast, and a powerful language is developed for the future use of analysis, in which to wield its truths so that these may become of more speedy and accurate practical application for the purposes of mankind than the means hitherto in our possession have rendered possible. Thus not only the mental and the material, but the theoretical and the practical in the mathematical world, are brought into more intimate and effective connection with each other.
Augusta Ada Lovelace truly was a giant among men. And she deserves every bit of the credit that she is now getting (albeit nearly two hundred years late).
But Let's Celebrate Right Now.
If I may offer my own two cents, in the modern context: we shouldn't worry so much about the future of our women.
I need to step lightly, of course... There are still issues- stigmas, customs, inequities, a lingering splash of sheer idiocy- and these cannot be dismissed as merely trivial things. But the stone is rolling now, and it's picking up speed.
We should all be happy to step back momentarily and admire the delightful destruction of our past omissions and misconceptions. But we must also be careful not to get stuck back there, fighting to change what once was (and forgetting to find progress and joy in today's world).
Esther McVey expresses her own fighting spirit:
By bringing these contributions to light we can help the next generation of women find their place in the world.... I want to prove to girls that they can achieve what they set their minds to.
And I like it. I really do.
Attitudes like that are a big part of our journey up to this point.
But I'm a man in my early thirties, and the father of a beautiful seven-year-old-girl. And I can tell you that I love women and all of their contributions. I want them to rule the world someday, if all goes as planned. Men can be the strong (very silent) partners.
So if I feel this way, and the generations which proceed mine are even more progressive and motivated... We should all get along famously.
And, if I may add two more cents in closing: Innovation and evolution, in any field, happens almost exclusively without precedence... So let us not fixate on the dismissal of women's achievements in the past, but rather on the seemingly unprecedented leaps and bounds they will take over the course of the next decade.
Let's get there together, shall we?
Cheers: to kicking ass (and taking names this time)!