|Airdate||January 4, 2006|
Engineering & Tech
Ada Lovelace is a BrainPOP video launched on January 4, 2006.
It's easy to take for granted that our favorite apps, feeds, games, and videos are just a couple of clicks away. But access to this seemingly endless stream of information and entertainment would quickly evaporate if it weren't for computer programmers.
Millions upon millions of them work behind the scenes to prepare every bit and byte of your digital diet. Would you like to join the ranks of these talented folks? If so, there's a lot you can do to start preparing for a career as a programmer.
Be sure to take a broad range of classes in middle and high school, including algebra and a foreign language. Math involves logical problem-solving according to set rules. So does writing code, a programmer's main responsibility. Studying another language will give you practice in working with unfamiliar grammar and vocabulary, similar to the experience of learning a new coding language.
Most programming jobs also require a bachelor's degree. In college, consider majoring in Computer Science, Mathematics, or Linguistics.
As any programmer will tell you, you'll learn best by doing. The good news is that you can start today: Programming tools like Scratch are a fun way to get a handle on the basics. Scratch also hosts a forum that allows you to connect and share questions with a community of professional programmers.
Finally, keep in mind that a programmer's education never really stops. Technology changes constantly, with advances coming ever more rapidly. Staying on top of trends and new techniques is the key to a long and successful career as a programmer.
- Ada, a computer programming language written for the U.S. Department of Defense, was named after Ada Lovelace.
- Ada Lovelace Day, which takes place every October, is an event that encourages people to write blog posts about women in technology.
- Lovelace’s notes on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine were three times as long as the original article she had translated from French to English. Her notes were first published in 1843 and again in 1953.
- Lovelace was friendly with author Charles Dickens. He visited her regularly and was actually one of the last people outside of her family to see her alive.
- Charles Babbage gave Lovelace her famous nickname when he wrote of her: “Forget this world and all its troubles and if possible its multitudinous charlatans—every thing in short but the Enchantress of Numbers.”
- In the early 19th century, there were no professional scientists like there are today. In fact, the word “scientist” was coined in 1834 by scholar and philosopher William Whewell in a review of a work by Lovelace’s friend and mentor Mary Somerville!
- Because women weren’t yet accepted as intellectual equals in Ada Lovelace’s time, she published her work under the initials AAL.
- Toward the end of her life, Lovelace grew fond of gambling—a bit too fond, in fact. At the time of her death, much of her fortune had vanished due to lost bets.
- Despite having never met or corresponded with her father, the poet Lord Byron (who left her mother shortly after Ada's birth and died when she was nine years old), Lovelace is buried next to him in Nottingham, England.
- Each year, the British Computer Society awards the Lovelace Medal, named in her honor, to individuals who make significant contributions to the field of information systems, a subset of computer science.
If Ada Lovelace is considered the first computer programmer, mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage could be described as designer of the first computer. He worked on the design for his Analytical Engine until he died. The full machine was never built, but the engine's design was a major step in the history of modern computers.
By all accounts, the Analytical Engine was far ahead of its time. It predicted many of the components that comprise modern computers!
For example, the engine had a "mill," where the processing of mathematical functions took place. The mill would perform the four main arithmetic operations—addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division—as well as square roots and other mathematical comparisons. In this way, the mill was like the central processor of today's computers.
The engine also had a "store," which was like a modern computer's memory. It could save as many as 1,000 numbers of 50 decimals each—the equivalent of 20.7 kilobytes of data today. The store would also hold intermediate results from various calculations.
The Analytical Engine could not only repeat the same sequence of operations a set number of times, it could also use conditional branching. In other words, the machine could take different courses of action depending on the outcome of a particular calculation.
Three different types of punch cards could be used to feed programs, or instructions, into the engine. One kind could handle standard math operations; another would cover numerical constants (where values don't change); and the third would be used for loading and storing operations.
If the Analytical Engine had been built to completion it would have been enormous. Historians believe it would have taken a steam engine to run it! Plus, the proto-computer would have been extremely expensive. Because of its complexity, rather than attempting to build it in its entirety, Babbage focused on building smaller and cheaper trial models until his death in 1871.
Ada Lovelace had an extraordinary mentor in writer and scientist Mary Somerville, who was one of the most distinguished female scholars of her time.
Born in Scotland in 1780, Somerville received little formal schooling. Girls in the late 18th century were not believed to need education; they were expected to marry and fill their lives with household duties. Young Mary was even scolded by her family for reading so much—it was considered very unladylike!
But Somerville began studying algebra on her own. Her interest was piqued when her art teacher explained how math underlies many different concepts in art and science. She also became fascinated by an article about algebra that she read in a magazine, and convinced her brother's tutor to introduce her to the subject.
As an adult, Somerville's pursuits in science and math brought her into the orbit of some of the most distinguished scientists and mathematicians of the day. Her first well-known work was a translation of one of astronomer Pierre-Simon Laplace's papers, which she clarified and made accessible to non-scientists. She went on to write books on physical, geographic, astronomical, and molecular sciences. Some of these were used as university textbooks for many years.
Somerville's achievements were honored with a series of awards from the scientific community. Perhaps the most impressive recognition was her election to the Royal Astronomical Society in 1835. She and astronomer Caroline Herschel were the first two women to ever be inducted into the Society. When she died in 1872, The Morning Post, an English newspaper, dubbed her the "Queen of Nineteenth-Century Science."
Letter from Augustus De Morgan to Lady Byron. 1844.
I have never expressed to Lady Lovelace my opinion of her as a student of these matters. I always feared that it might promote an application to them which might be injurious to a person whose bodily health is not strong. I have therefore contented myself with very good, quite right, and so on. But I feel bound to tell you that the power of thinking on these matters which Lady L. has always shown from the beginning of my correspondence with her, has been something so utterly out of the common way for any beginner, man or woman, but this power must be duly considered by her friends, with reference to the question whether they should urge or check her obvious determination to try not only to reach, but to go beyond, the present bounds of knowledge.
Had any young beginner, about to go to Cambridge, shown the same power, I should have prophesied first that his aptitude at grasping the strong points and the real difficulties of first principles would have very much lowered his chance of being senior wrangler; secondly, that they would have certainly made him an original mathematical investigator, perhaps of first-rate eminence.
The tract about Babbage's machine is a pretty thing enough, but I could I think produce a series of extracts, out of Lady Lovelace's first queries upon new subjects, which would make a mathematician see that it was no criterion of what might be expected from her.
All women who have published mathematics hitherto have shown knowledge, and power of getting it, but no one, except perhaps (I speak doubtfully) Maria Agnesi, has wrestled with difficulties and shown a man's strength in getting over them. The reason is obvious: the very great tension of mind which they require is beyond the strength of a woman's physical power of application. Lady L. has unquestionably as much power as would require all the strength of a man's constitution to bear the fatigue of thought to which it will unquestionably lead her. It is very well now, when the subject has not entirely engrossed her attention; by-and-bye when, as always happens, the whole of the thoughts are continually and entirely concentrated upon them, the struggle between the mind and body will begin.
Morgan, Augustus De. Letter to Lady Byron. 1844. MS. N.p.