The Enchantress of Numbers and First Computer Programmer: A biography of Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace, aka "The Mother of Programming" or the "Enchantress of Numbers," is officially the first computer programmer.

The Enchantress of Numbers and First Computer Programmer: A biography of Ada Lovelace
Ada Lovelace and the Analytical Engine 1, 2

Ada Lovelace, Augusta Ada King Countess of Lovelace to give her her official title, was a trailblazing English mathematician who most agree wrote the first computer program. Today she is often fondly remembered as the "Mother of Programming".

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The daughter of the famed English poet Lord George Byron she would never need her father's fame to carve out her place in history. 

Her written instructions for Charles Babbage's (the Father of Computing) Analytical Engine mark a key moment in the history of the development of modern computers. She was a true visionary and was leagues ahead of her time. 

In the following article, we'll take a quick look at this amazing woman's life and reveal to the world, if you didn't know, her enormous impact on the world. 

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Ada was from a stately but broken home

Ada was born Augusta Ada Byron in London on the 10th December 1815. But her early life would not be happy. Her mother, Annabella Milbarke Byrne would leave her father when she was two and the couple would later legally separate. 

Lord Byron later left England when Ada was only a few months old, never to return. He would tragically die in Greece  and Ada never really got to know him.

Despite her mother's apparent concern for her daughter she never really helped bring her up. Most of Ada's youth was spent with her maternal grandmother and servants but, sadly, her grandmother died when she was only seven. 

Ada Lovelace Enchantress of Numbers
Source: Helen Harrop/Flickr

Her mother, though estranged, insisted she should learn mathematics and science and work hard. She was also educated in French (a fashionable trend at the time) and music. 

All her tuition was at home by private teachers but she also self-studied and read voraciously. Ada was even tutored for a time by Augusts De Morgan, the first professor of mathematics at the University of London, who helped Ada in her advanced studies.  

Ada's life would suddenly take a turn for the better when she, at the age of 19, married William King (the 8th Baron King) on the 8th July 1835. He was later elevated to the status of an Earl on 1838 and Ada was given her own honorific of Countess of Lovelace. 

Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace

In 1843, Ada was asked by Charles Babbage to translate an article that had been published by an Italian Military Engineer. The article was about the operations of the Analytical Machine

This she duly accomplished but went further. In the process of translating it, she also added her own notes to the process so that they might be added to the programming. 

Her attention to detail was such that her notes were actually three times longer than the original translated text. Ada also made some corrections to Babbage's original calculations that were included in the document. 

Ada quickly realized the potential for the machine far exceeded simple calculations. She was able, through her notes to show that it could be used to calculate Bernoulli Numbers for instance.

The Analytical Engine does not occupy common ground with mere 'calculating machines.' It holds a position wholly its own, and the considerations it suggests are more interesting in their nature." - Ada Lovelace.

Ada, within her notes, demonstrated through diagrams, the computations that the engine could accomplish for practical and scientific purposes. Using her musical background she also surmised that, one day, such a machine could be used to compose music.

Ada Love Charles Babbage Analytical Engine
Source: Bruno Barral (ByB)/Wikimedia Commons

Babbage and Lovelace would continue to correspond with another right up until her death. 

Despite all her hard work, Babbage's Analytical Engine was never realized but her translation (and more importantly notes) were published to great acclaim by her peers at the time. Her work would lay dormant for over one hundred years until its significance was once again realized during the age of computers.

The Tragic Death of Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace just before her death
Ada Lovelace at a piano in 1852. Source: Henry Phillips/Wikimedia Commons

On November the 27th 1852 she lost her battle with uterine cancer and died at the far too young age of 36. Her body was interred in the graveyard of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Nottingham, England.

A tragic end to an amazing lady. As Lao Tzu once said, "The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.”

The world had lost a true visionary in Ada but she was recognized in her time as something of an extraordinary woman and was known as the "Enchantress of Numbers" - a title coined by her good friend Charles Babbage. Ada preferred to refer to herself as an analyst and metaphysician. 

Ada Lovelace day Google
Google's logo for Ada's 197th birthday. Source: Google/Yvonne Kao/Flickr