Posted by: ubuntunc | March 24, 2010

Ada Lovelace Day

Today is a special day for women involved in computing and especially those involved in programming of computers.  Today is Ada Lovelace Day.  It’s a relatively new designation of one day of the year that recognizes women involved in computing.  Most will not know of Ada Lovelace, but she was the friend of a man who was significant in the history of computing in the world.

Charles Babbage designed the first computer in the history of the world.  Now, it was not driven by electricity as computers have been since the first digital computer was developed in 1947, but it was significant in the fact that Babbage’s design still exists and appears to be sound in its concept.  His computer was never built, and primarily due to the lack of funding and political support for such a mechanical behemoth in his day. Few people on the day even understood what the machine might accomplish if built.  You see, Babbage was born in 1791 and died in 1871, years before electricity was commonly distributed or even utilized.  His computer was a purely mechanical computer.

But that tells you nothing about Ada Lovelace and her contribution to the computing world.  However, there is a connection.  Ada Lovelace was born December, 1915, as Augusta Ada Byron, in England, and was the daughter of the poet, Lord Byron.  In her early years she was schooled heavily in mathematics and excelled therein.  Prominent mathematicians of the day considered her as one who would become a mathematician of some note.

By 1835, Ada married  William King who was later to become the 1st Earl of Lovelace, where upon she was bestowed the title of Countess of Lovelace. From that, we now know her as Ada Lovelace.

Prior to her marriage she had met Charles Babbage in 1833. Their interest in mathematics gave them a common ground upon which to build a platonic relationship. Babbage had great respect for her mathematical skills and once called her “The Enchantress of Numbers”. Over subsequent years, she became interested in Babbage’s analytical engine and from writings about it, actually developed an instruction set for computing certain algorithms by the computer, had it ever been built. From that, she is often thought of as the worlds first woman programmer. Approved on December 10, 1980, Lovelace’s birthday, the United States military community developed a computer programming language called Ada, named for her.

So, today, we pay tribute to her and, in so doing, celebrate the involvement of women the world over who are, or have been, involved with computing. The movement that is promoting Ada Lovelace Day has asked us to blog about our favorite female heroine of the computer industry.

Well, sadly, I have no such heroine. That, in my opinion, is probably due to 1) my age, and 2) my status as primarily a self taught programmer. As an engineering student in the late 1960s, I encountered very few females while in college studying engineering. All engineering students had to take programming courses at the time and the few engineering majors at the University of Texas who were female seemed to scare the daylights out of me. Never having encountered women with similar interests to mine, I really had no clue how to relate to them. And, on top of that, the opportunity didn’t often present itself as there were more socially skilled male engineering students who always beat me to the draw, as it were.

My work experience, after a stint in the USAF, was primarily as an entrepreneur which further insulated me from the female influence that was beginning to make inroads in the hiring practices of large corporations. So, as a result, I’ve never become acquainted with any female in computing that I can truly say is a heroine.

However, I have become almost acquainted with a very dynamic young lady in recent days that I am developing a great admiration for. She isn’t exactly a programmer type, but she is indirectly working in a computing environment. So, not so much for her technical skills, which may be many, but for her drive and commitment to her role in supporting the Linux distribution called Ubuntu in the State of North Carolina, I would say the lady that exemplifies action and leadership in my computing world, would be Amber Graner.

Amber is married and is a mom to teenagers and yet finds time to work as a volunteer, and a very active one, at that, in Ubuntu’s Local Community. Along with a few other males, she established the North Carolina Local Community (Loco) for Ubuntu. And, in addition, she travels the world over attending and, even speaking at, Linux related gatherings. But with that notoriety, she has not lost her willingness to work very hard in the trenches for the NC Loco Team, doing presentations, organizing events, and even modifying the web pages of the NC Loco Team. I guess one would have to acknowledge her as a programmer in some respects, even though her skill set transcends programming significantly.

So, Amber, I admire your work ethic and would present you as the lady most deserving of recognition on this second annual Ada Lovelace Day.