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Lovelace a pioneer in a man's world

Lovelace a pioneer in a man's world

Information and communications technology is a man’s world. I don’t mean this in some sexist, ‘women should keep out’ kind of way. Rather, it is simply as acknowledgement of presence.

Most people in ICT are XY not XX. There aren’t events and websites dedicated to encouraging men to join the industry. It is a sheer numbers thing. Of course, times are changing and there are notable exceptions.

Carly Fiorina, for example, served as chief executive officer of HP from 1999 to 2005, and previously was an executive vice president at AT&T. Irma Wyman was the first CIO at Honeywell. Mary Lou Jepsen was founder of One Laptop Per Child. Randice-Lisa Altschul invented the world’s first disposable cellphone.

Closer to home we’ve had Theresa Gattung in charge at Telecom and Rosemary Howard at TelstraClear, Jennifer Moxon as current managing director of IBM and Amanda Sachtleben edits Reseller News.

Generally, however, the famous, household names associated with our industry are male, guys like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Michael Dell, Larry Ellison, Charles Babbage and so on. Yet, we really should add to that list of hi-tech luminaries the name of Ada Lovelace.

Who? You know, Ada Lovelace. Nope?

I’m not surprised if you don’t. Nevertheless a recent poll put her top of the pile as the most popular role model for women working in the fields of science and technology.

Why Ada? Well, I’m glad you asked.

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (but now known simply as Ada Lovelace) was born on 10 December 1815, the only child of Lord Byron – an interesting claim to fame in itself. In the 1800s, she worked with mathematician Charles Babbage, whose invention, the Analytical Engine, formed the basis of modern computing. Ada Lovelace is credited with writing the world’s first computer programme when she came up with a way of using the machine, which was never actually built, to calculate a mathematical sequence known as Bernoulli numbers.

Ada wrote a scientific paper in 1843 anticipating that computers could do a lot more than just crunch numbers. She predicted the development of computer software and artificial intelligence, and suggested that the Analytical Engine “might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent”. Pretty cool, huh.

In recognition of her achievements, last year an Ada Lovelace Day was launched to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science. Unfortunately, she never had the chance to fully explore the possibilities of either Babbage’s inventions or her own understanding of computing. She died aged just 36, on 27 November 1852, of cancer and bloodletting by her physicians.

Just imagine what she could have achieved had she been around today.


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