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Rebooting the Ada Lovelace Mythos: Video, transcript, slides, and summary now available

A full length oil portrait of a woman in 19th c. dress

Ada Lovelace

How has the perception of Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer, changed through history? What does that changing view say about us as a society? That’s the subject of “Rebooting the Ada Lovelace Mythos,” the keynote at the world’s first conference celebrating the achievements of Countess Ada Lovelace, hosted at the Stevens Institute of Technology. Ada Initiative Executive Director Valerie Aurora was honored to give the keynote speech at this historic conference.

Now you can watch the video (with transcript), read the transcript alone, or read the slides of the whole talk here. A summary of the talk is at the end of this post.

As part of our mission to support women in open tech/culture, we work hard to make the video and transcript of Ada Initiative talks available to as many people as possible. Transcripts are surprisingly cheap and fast to create. We use and recommend StenoKnight CART Services, whose proprietor, Mirabai Knight, is also leader of the open source software stenography project, Plover. Make your videos accessible to those who can’t or don’t want to watch them and support women in open tech/culture, all at the same time!

Talk summary

Today, Countess Ada Lovelace is known primarily as the world’s first computer programmer, having published in 1843 a program written for an early computer designed (but never built) by Charles Babbage. But our view of Lovelace has changed significantly over time, starting with her early fame as the poet Lord Byron’s daughter and extending into deeply personal book-length attacks on her personality and accomplishments.

This talk discusses the changing perception of Ada Lovelace from her birth to 2013, with emphasis on how this reflects the importance of computing and the perceptions of women’s proper roles in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In Lovelace’s lifetime, science and mathematics were considered an appropriate leisure time pursuit of upper class Victorian society, including the occasional woman as long as she did not intrude too far. Today, women are still excluded from STEM at greater rates than men, but we also have a greater understanding of how this is happening and much wider agreement that we need to end discrimination against women in STEM. Over the same period of time, computers went from interesting curiousities to crucial components in multi-billion dollar industries and the military-industrial complex. What was once an unimportant piece of trivia – who wrote the first computer program – became a hotly contested symbol of the struggle to define who should be included in the computer revolution and who should be “naturally” left out.

In the end, all the popular versions of the Ada Lovelace mythos – world’s first computer programmer, Lord Byron’s daughter, delusional mentally ill gambler – are incomplete and often perpetuate harmful stereotypes about women in STEM. The talk ends with some proposals for new, more complex stories we could tell about Ada Lovelace, as a brilliant and flawed human being with variety of interests, who happened to see farther into the future of computing than anyone else for the next hundred years.

Wikimedia Diversity Conference

People sitting in chairs looking interested

CC BY-SA Christopher Schwarzkopf (WMDE)

The international Wikimedia Diversity Conference was held Nov. 9 – 10, 2013, in Berlin. This event focused on increasing gender and geographic diversity among contributors to Wikimedia projects like Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, and WikiVoyage. A full report was just posted on the Wikimedia blog today!

Ada Initiative Executive Director Valerie Aurora led a session on how to adapt diversity initiatives that worked in other open tech/culture communities to Wikimedia projects. The slides and notes are available online. You can also watch a short video (uncaptioned, in English) on the talk.

The main points of the talk were: a summary of what worked, a summary of what didn’t work, and suggestions and discussion for concrete steps going forward.

What worked and what didn’t

What we’ve seen work to increase diversity in open tech/culture are the following:

  • Building affinity groups
  • Leveraging conferences
  • Existing community leaders taking action
  • Paying people to do diversity work

What didn’t work were the following:

  • Only volunteers working on diversity
  • Organizing one-off workshops or events
  • Keeping problems secret/being nice to power
  • Preventing safe private spaces
  • Adopting vague and/or unenforceable codes of conduct
  • Flame-style discussion

The slides and notes go into greater detail on each of these points.

Suggestions for concrete steps forward

Here are all of the suggestions we made for taking concrete steps forward, based on what worked in open source software and matching it up with Wikimedia community style:

  • Create invite-only, private, safe spaces for affinity groups
  • Financially support some WikiProjects
  • Document discrimination in permanent, less “neutral” area
  • Develop funding stream to pay people to work on diversity
  • Support existing culture of social justice
  • Fund research into paid work already being done

The suggestions related to this list that the attendees particularly liked (and had often made themselves earlier in the conference) were summarized in the report-out from the gender diversity discussion group:

  • Create invitation-only online social group for women in Wikimedia projects
  • Adopt and enforce Friendly Space policy in online groups
  • Create Wiki Women’s User Group
  • Fund organize repeating, frequent, in-person events for WikiProjects
  • Support event organization: logistics support, policy cookbooks, training for organizers
  • Pay people to support WikiProjects (admin-type work, not editing)
  • Hold international women-only Wikimedia conference
  • More documentation: effectiveness of events, best practices

The Ada Initiative is continuing to work with Wikimedia community members to support their implementation of these ideas in their communities. If you’d like to contribute, please contact us at We hope to have more to report soon!

Welcome Suki McCoy, new Director of Operations at Ada Initiative

Suki McCoy, Director of Operations

Suki McCoy, Director of Operations

We’re thrilled to announce that Suki McCoy has joined the Ada Initiative as our new Director of Operations, allowing Valerie and Mary to grow and expand programs like AdaCamp, the Allies Workshop, and anti-harassment campaigns.

An experienced operations and finance officer, Suki McCoy comes to the Ada Initiative from See Change, a San Francisco-based research and evaluation firm that partnered with organizations specializing in the issues of social justice and youth development and advocacy. As a managing partner, Suki worked closely with community groups and others to distill qualitative and quantitative findings into usable knowledge for socially forward programs and the larger field of philanthropy.

Suki’s interest in social justice began during her time working as a private and, later, municipal investigator in San Francisco. Her efforts investigating area elder-abuse cases helped strongly develop her need to work in the advocacy arena.

Suki holds a Bachelor of Science degree in nutrition, and is returning to school to pursue a Master’s degree in Public Health. When she is not hiking with her dogs, she usually can be found reading, gardening or perfecting her amazing homemade pizza.

Suki joins the Ada Initiative at a fortunate time, as Mary Gardiner, presently Director of Operations and Research, will be taking indefinite maternity leave from December 6. While she is no longer head of operations, Mary plans to return to a director role at the Ada Initiative in 2014. We welcome Suki and eagerly look forward to Mary’s return!

Lightning reviews for lightning talks: another easy way to make your conference better

Selena Deckelmann and Rebecca Refford at AdaCamp DC CC BY-SA Maírín Duffy

CC BY-SA Maírín Duffy

What’s your favorite part of a conference? For many, lightning talks are where it’s at – a series of short talks on a wide range of topics given one right after another. At AdaCamp unconferences, we have had talks on how playing the game Nethack helps learn command line interfaces, ancient natural uranium reactors, and a rap on women in technology. Lightning talks are fun, easy, and energizing. Every conference should think about having them (or having more).

The downside of lightning talks is that there often isn’t time to review them all before they go on stage. Sometimes a less than appropriate talk ends up in front of your audience. One bad lightning talk can overshadow an entire conference. Take the Titstare lightning talk at the 2013 TechCrunch Disrupt conference. This one talk ended up with more press than the entire conference, and left a bad impression on the conference’s target audience.

So what can conference organizers do to avoid bad lightning talks, while still keeping the fun and variety that makes lightning talks so popular? We have one solution: A short questionnaire for lightning talk presenters to fill out when they submit their talk. This questionnaire asks speakers if their talk features things like sexy pictures and jokes about specific sensitive topics, so organizers can take a closer look at the talk before including it in the line-up.

What if the presenter decides to lie in their answers? In that case, this step won’t help. But in our experience, most presenters simply don’t know that their slide or joke is offensive. In the Titstare case, the developers expressed their surprise at the reaction it got: “Sorry if we offended some of you, very unintentional. Just a fun Aussie hack.

We wrote up an example Google form that conference organizers can use to both collect lightning talk submissions and screen them for potentially unwelcome material. We suggest that organizers use this as a screening tool only that flags submissions for extra review. This encourages presenters to be honest in their replies and prevents good talks from getting rejected on technicalities – especially ones related to fighting sexism and other discrimination in tech.

The entire form is embedded below. To copy the form and use it for your conference, follow the instructions at the top of the form. Best wishes for your conference and any lightning talks you run!

Ada Lovelace conference report-out

Last week was the world’s first conference celebrating the achievements of Countess Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer. Ada Initiative Executive Director Valerie Aurora attended and has this report-out:

Three women squinting into the sun

Dr. Robin Hammerman, Sydney Padua, and Valerie Aurora (CC-BY SA Dr. Robin Hammerman)

I never thought I’d have breakfast with two Ada Lovelace experts, much less go to an entire conference full of them! The first conference celebrating Ada Lovelace’s life and accomplishments was everything I had hoped for: a wide variety of papers and discussions on Lovelace’s work, the science fiction inspired by her life and times, issues affecting women in computer science, and the broader societal implications of her story.

One of our goals at the Ada Initiative is to give women varied and interesting role models in open technology and culture. This conference showed Ada Lovelace as a complex, multi-dimensional person who lived an exciting (if short) life. Besides writing an incredibly prescient paper on the potential of computing, she rode horses, played the harp, bet way too much money on horse races, had secret affairs, went to all the best scientific salons, suffered through various health problems, and was both close friends and colleagues with one of the most interesting people in Victorian-era society, the scientist, mathematician, and engineer Charles Babbage.

When I was a university student studying computer science and mathematics, I always resented the pressure to focus only on programming and give up my interests in music, literature, and art. I felt like I finally fit in at this conference, which was intentionally interdisciplinary, much like the host university, the Stevens Institute of Technology. The Ada Lovelace conference was a perfect fit for Stevens, which is engineering-oriented but strongly values an education in the arts and humanities as well.

Black and white poster with cartoon Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage holding silly sci-fi guns with the text "Lovelace and Babbage: They Fight Crime"

Sydney Padua’s Lovelace and Babbage comic

For me, the highlight of the conference was getting to meet Sydney Padua in person, the artist behind The Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage. I couldn’t believe our luck when she agreed to help the Ada Initiative’s very first fundraiser by creating a custom print for our Seed 100 donors and I was looking forward to thanking her in person. Sydney had many interesting and insightful things to say about the Lovelace-Babbage friendship, historical trends in their reputations, and changes in the gender ratio of computer animators. She also gave us a sneak preview of her upcoming graphic novel!

My keynote address, “Rebooting the Ada Lovelace Mythos,” was well-attended, thanks in part to it being part of the Provost’s Lecture Series on Women in Leadership and open to the public. The talk was recorded and we will post it on the Ada Initiative web site when it is available (with captioning, of course).

Two women, a river, and downtown Manhattan

Sydney, Valerie, and the Manhattan skyline (CC-BY SA Dr. Robin Hammerman)

The faculty of the host university, the Stevens Institute of Technology, were all incredibly warm and welcoming, especially the conference organizer, Dr. Robin Hammerman. She told me that Stevens recently succeeded in increasing the percentage of women students to 30%, quite an accomplishment in a technology-oriented institution. Their dedication and creativity in making their school more attractive to and supportive of women gives me hope for the Ada Initiative’s goals and women in STEM in general. (Plus they have a fantastic view of downtown Manhattan from half of campus!)

Thank you to everyone who made this event possible: all the speakers, Stevens Institute of Technology, and Dr. Robin Hammerman especially!

How you can stay involved in the Ada Initiative plus final fundraising thank-you

Seven women with arms on each others' shoulders

CC-BY-SA Adam Novak

Thank you all for your help getting us to our fundraising goal for 2013! Over 400 donors gave more than $107,000 total, beating our original goal of $100,000 with 2 days to spare. We will use this funding to continue and expand our programs to support women in open technology and culture, including our most popular programs:

  • Impostor Syndrome training: Teaching women to overcome fears of being a fraud and a fake, a significant factor in whether women get involved, stay in, and become leaders in open tech/culture
  • Anti-harassment work: Expand our work into codes of conduct in online communities and other non-conference spaces, while continuing to support conference anti-harassment work in many communities
  • AdaCamp unconferences: Bringing people together from across open technology and culture to share best practices, build networks, and learn skills

None of these programs would be possible without your support and that of all of our many sponsors and donors. Thank you for making it possible for us to change thousands of lives for the better!

Staying involved

Donating is just one way to support women in open technology and culture. We’ve put together a list of ways people can help in their everyday lives. Corporations interested in the open technology and culture space can get involved in several ways as well. If you would like to keep up to date with the Ada Initiative’s work, AdaCamp and other event announcements, scholarships, calls to action, and similar ways to be part of the movement for change, here are several ways to keep up with us.

Thanks and appreciation

An extraordinary coalition of individuals, communities, and corporations helped make our next year of work possible. We are incredibly grateful to everyone who donated their time, social capital, or money.

Smiling woman

Leigh Honeywell

We were also happy to hear so many positive stories from people who made matching grant challenges, blogged about their experiences with the Ada Initiative, or otherwise reached out during this fundraising campaign. Many people told deeply personal stories and honored the people they felt closest too: parents, children, grandparents, teachers, and personal heroes. Several people were amazed by how many people in their community supported women strongly enough to donate, and are hopeful for positive change in the future. Others thought that the opportunity to speak out about their most deeply held values was its own reward. And finally, many people told us about career or business opportunities that came directly out of fundraising for Ada Initiative.

We are incredibly thrilled that fundraising was such a positive experience for so many of our supporters. It was an uplifting, encouraging experience for us as well, thanks in large part to the many advisors and support staff who were part of making our next year’s work possible.

Specifically, we would like to thank our matching donation challenge sponsors:

Everyone who wrote a blog post:

The many people who shared our fundraising drive with their friends, colleagues, and families.

And of course, all of our 400+ donors, including the donors who gave us permission to share their names:

Ada Lavee Fox
Adam C. Foltzer
Adam DiCarlo
Alan Coopersmith
Alex Gaynor
Alex Payne
Alison Cichowlas
Allison Morris
Amanda Skellenger
Amber June Blahnik
Amelia Greenhall
Amy Hendrix
Amy Rich
Andrea J. Horbinski
Andy Dirnberger
Annalee Flower Horne
Art Kaufmann
Audrey Roy
Autumn Reinhardt-Simpson
Barbara Hui
Ben Chapman
Ben Combee
Bess Sadler
Betsy Haibel
Bill Nottingham
Brad Montgomery
Brenda Moon
Brian and Jennifer Luft
Brian DeRocher
Brian Kung
Brian Neal
Brian Nisbet
Brion Vibber
Britta Gustafson
Bro. Dave Lister
Carl Trachte
Carol Willing
Caroline Simard
Chris Ford
Chris McDonough
Chris Minn
Chris Tierney
Christine Spang
Colleen Penrowley
CV Harquail
Dana Caulder
Daniel Lindsley
Daniel Quinn (@searchingfortao)
Daniel Ross
Daniel Trembath
David Comay
Deb Nicholson
Decklin Foster
Denys Howard
Derek Willis
Dominic Mazzoni
Dorothea Salo
Dwayne Litzenberger
Echa Schneider
Eirik Nilsen
Elizabeth Lorang
Elizabeth Ragavanis
Emily Oleksyk Sweeny
Emmanuele Bassi
Eric Grosse
Eric Palakovich Carr
Esa Vesalainen
Ethan Glasser-Camp
Eugene Eric Kim
Fredrik Larsson
Garrett Rooney
Gayle Karen Young
Glenn Siegman
Glenn Street
Greg Hilliard
Heath Anderson
Heidi Cautrell
Holden Karau
Holly French
Hooshyar Naraghi
Ian Bolf
India Amos
Isobel Hadley-Kamptz
Jack Moffitt
James E. Pace
James Turnbull
Jamie Norrish
Jan-Bart de Vreede
Jane Hammons
Janet D. Stemwedel
Jason Thibeault
Jean Kaplansky
Jed Davis
Jed Hartman
Jeffrey Wear
jen smith
Jenny Dybedahl
Jenny Gardiner
Jerome D’Acquitaine
Jess Hamrick
Jim Blandy
Jiten Vaidya
Joe Murphy
John Bennetts
John Jacobsen
John McNamara
Julia Elman
Justin Husted
Kaitlin Devine
Kalina Wilson
Kalle, from Helsinki
Karl A. Krueger
Katherine Elliott
Katherine Scott
Katie Bechtold
Kellie Brownell
Kent Crispin
Kevin Fenzi
Kevin S. Clarke
Kim Stone
Kim Varnell
Kimberly Munoz
Kris Howard
Kristal Pollack
Kristina Kerr Bergman
Kurt Van Etten
Kym Maxham
Lacey Powers
Larissa Shapiro
Laura Dragan
Lincoln Loop
Lisa Seeman
Lord Darkraven Fierce-Eyes
Louis Wasserman and Jennifer Mace
Luis Villa
Lynn Root
Mackenzie Morgan
Marcus J. Ranum
Marie Brennan
Marina Zhurakhinskaya
Marius Gedminas
Mark Pilgrim
Marta Maria Casetti
Matt Hellige
Matt Zimmerman
Maximilian Klein
Meg Molloy
Megan DiVall
Mel Chua
Meredith Tupper
Merlin Havlik
Michael Marineau
Michelle Yaiser
Mike & Claire Shaver
Mike Linksvayer
Mistress of the Dorkness
Moritz Bunkus
Nancy E. Shaffer
Nathan Bosch
Nick Popoff
Nóirín Plunkett
Pam Chestek
Paul A.
Paul Bailey
Paul Smith
Peter Geoghegan
Peter van Hardenberg
Pierre Phaneuf
Preston Holmes
PZ Myers, for Skatje Myers
Quim Gil
R David Murray
Rachel Chalmers
Rachel Shearer
Raucous Indignation
Rebecca Sobol
Reed Mangino
Richard Fontana
Robin L. Zebrowski
Rosita Ty Derecho
Ryan Kennedy
Sally Ahnger
Sarah Sharp
Scott Rosenberg
Selena Deckelmann
Shuying Liang
Siobhan McKeown
Stef Maruch
Steve Adamczyk
Susan Tan
Tammy Anderson
Tanya Reilly
Till Schneidereit
Tim Chevalier
Tim Johnson (tojo2000)
Tom Smith
Tsubaki Sanjuro
Tyler Breisacher
Tyler Laing
Valerie Fenwick (Bubbva)
Veronica Vergara
Victoria Zenoff Career Strategies
Will Thompson

Ada Lovelace jewelry gallery

5 Ada Lovelace pendants on a red background

Ada Lovelace pendants

Ada Lovelace jewelry is getting more and more popular! Our most popular thank-you gift for donations to the Ada Initiative is a piece of custom jewelry we created, a black-and-white glass pendant featuring our original portrait of Ada Lovelace. For those of you new to Ada Lovelace, she became the world’s first computer programmer when she published the first computer program in 1843! (She was also the Countess of Lovelace and Lord Byron’s daughter.)

We collected all the Ada Lovelace jewelry we could find and made this gallery. Our own pendant is only available during our fundraising drives. Our current fundraising drive ends today, August 31st, 2013, but we are extending the deadline for getting a pendant by 3 days. To get your Ada Lovelace pendant, donate by September 3rd, 2013.

Donate now

If you aren’t a fan of wearing geeky jewelry yourself, but want to support women in computing, we are sure you can think of someone who would love a gift of a beautiful Ada Lovelace pendant!

Picture Price Description

A glass pendant with a black and white portrait of Ada Lovelace
Donate $128 or $10/month Approximately 1″ (2.59 cm) long glass cabochon pendant, wide nickel loop.

$27.95 USD Round 0.75″ metal-rimmed pendant with 18″ sterling silver-plated chain.

$29.99 USD A hand-soldered glass pendant with Ada’s portrait on one side, and a quote from her writings on the other. 30mm by 20mm, 18″ or 36″ chain. “Water-resistant, but not water-proof [so] take it off when coding underwater.”

$8.95 USD Oval glass pendant set in antique copper.

$30.00 USD Mica-fronted rectangular pendant with copper colored chain and lobster claw clasp. NOTE: this photograph is not actually of Ada Lovelace.

$10.95 USD Square glass pendant set in antique copper.

$8.95 USD Round glass pendant set in antiqued silver color metal.

More Ada Lovelace stuff, more more more!

Black and white poster with cartoon Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage holding silly sci-fi guns with the text "Lovelace and Babbage: They Fight Crime"If you’re not in the market for jewelry, you should head on over to Sydney Padua’s “Lovelace and Babbage” store, where you can get mugs, shirts, stickers, and more. Be sure to check out her fun (and super geeky) Ada Lovelace comics at 2D Goggles.

CC BY-SA Adam Novak. Woman with pink hair speaking and gesturing

Valerie Aurora

The first Ada Lovelace conference is coming up October 18th in New Jersey! Ada Initiative Executive Director Valerie Aurora will be giving the keynote address. Don’t miss this interdisciplinary conference covering Ada Lovelace’s accomplishments and influence on society.

Finally, don’t forget to participate in Ada Lovelace Day on October 15th by writing a blog post about a woman who inspires you and works in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics.

Please use our Ada Lovelace portrait

Note for jewelry makers: Our portrait is licensed CC Zero – that means you can use or modify it in any way you like: commercial or non-commercial, with or without attribution. Several high-resolution vector graphic versions are available on Wikimedia Commons. Let us know if you make anything with it and we may buy a few dozen! We would appreciate it if you included a reference to the Ada Initiative in your marketing material or receipt, but you don’t have to.

If we missed any Ada Lovelace jewelry, leave a comment!

About the Ada Initiative

A glass pendant with a black and white portrait of Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace pendant (click for larger image)

The Ada Initiative, named after Ada Lovelace, is working hard to support women and remove barriers to participation in many areas of computing: open source software, Wikipedia, open data, and others. You can help support women in computing by donating to support our work and learning more about how you can help. You can also read about our accomplishments during the last year and our plans for the future. Donate before September 3rd to get the Ada Lovelace pendant.

Donate now