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Helena Jidborg Alexander

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The Importance of Ada Lovelace Day

Posted: 16/10/2012 01:00

Have you heard about Ada Lovelace? I know what you are thinking, but no not Linda Lovelace the pornstar. No, Ada Lovelace the world's first computer programmer. Yes, I am serious; the first computer programmer was indeed a woman. The female geek in the making was born in 1815 to the rather famous Lord Byron and his wife, she grew up with an interest in maths and algorithms. In particular she was interested in Babbage's (Charles Babbage is often referred to as the father of the computer) work on the analytical engine. Ada translated an article by Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea on the engine. This translation she supplemented with a set of her own notes. These notes contained an algorithm encoded for processing by a machine - which is considered the first computer program.

History lesson over, let's talk about the present day. On 16 October we celebrate Ada Lovelace day. This day is meant not to celebrate Ada Lovelace herself but is about celebrating women in science and technology and sharing stories about inspiring women within these fields

The first time I heard about Ada Lovelace was on my first day at university back in 1996 in Sweden. I felt some sort of strange pride that the first programmer had been a woman. We live in a world where girls grow up to be more encouraged to look like Lara Croft rather than being the programmer behind the Tomb Raider games. Back then I knew a lot of aspiring programmers but none of these were women. Why is that?

A few days ago I saw a tweet under the hashtag #womenintech saying "I'd rather be a binman than work in IT", a quote from a young girl. Again why is that? Personally I think it could be due to a lack of role models within the world of science.

There are of course lots of fantastic women in the world of science, yet we don't hear much about them, as women we will hear much more about Victoria Beckham's new amazing haircut or how much weight Jessica Simpson has put on instead. So I should think this is why more people will think of Linda rather than Ada when they hear the name Lovelace. Women who do well within the field of science and technology are just not talked about much.

I think in a world where little girls grow up wanting to become Page 3 models, or see their career goal to marry a footballer, better role models are extremely important.

That is why Ada Lovelace day is such a great idea, share stories about women like Ada who inspires others to go on and dare to be a science nerd. I left that lesson back in 1996 feeling very inspired.

I have been working myself in the internet industry since 1999, a few years at start-ups, a few years at big giants like Yahoo! and Getty Images, now I work as the web editor for UK charity MS Trust. Most places I have worked at have been male dominated, but by no means is it a boys' club, women should be welcome in this world. And more women should be encouraged to join this world as it is a fun and exciting place.

I am not a techie myself, I started out as one, I did really well at school and left to study science at the Swedish equivalent to six form college. My favourite subject was physics. My dad was my role model and he had great dreams of me becoming an engineer. When he passed away when I was 16, I just gave up. There was no more inspiration and I thought without him I couldn't do it.

So I quit, jumped ship and started studying humanities instead, and moved on to university to do a degree in media. Even though I am happy in the job I do now, and I have had a good career as a web producer/editor, in the back of my mind I wonder how it would have been if my dad hadn't passed away, or if there would have been another role model in my life with the same love for science as he had.

So I think better role models are needed, and as parents we should be telling our children about Ada and other women if the world of Science and Technology, especially if we have little girls, and hopefully in that way bring up some more girls that will choose Ada instead of Barbie.

 

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