Author Archives: valerieadainitiative

About valerieadainitiative

Co-founder and former Executive Director of the Ada Initiative.

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!

Rikki Endsley interviews Ada Initiative executive director for USENIX ;login:

Valerie Aurora

Valerie Aurora

Rikki Endsley interviewed Ada Initiative executive director Valerie Aurora for ;login: magazine, a monthly magazine from the USENIX Advanced Computing Association. Rikki has written extensively on women in open source over the years, including a blog post many of our readers may be familiar with, “To my daughter’s high school programming teacher.”

Rikki interviewed Valerie about her career as a file systems developer, the Ada Initiative, and the on-going Linux kernel civility discussion, spearheaded by Linux USB developer Sarah Sharp.

An excerpt from one of Valerie’s answers in the interview about the Linux civility discussions:

I’m one of hundreds of Linux kernel developers, past and present, who agree with Sarah Sharp’s request [for more civility in Linux kernel development] — she’s just the person brave enough to directly call for change from Linus Torvalds and other community leadership. I was a little horrified to see how many top-notch kernel developers spoke up to say that this is one reason why they dropped out of kernel development. So I’m thrilled to hear this will be a topic of discussion at the next Linux Kernel Summit. I hope that other kernel developers will join her in standing up for a working environment without abuse.

I think Linus [insisted on the value of hostile discussion] based on the information he has. For example, he’s probably not aware of research showing that people’s intuition that performance improves after severely criticizing someone is wrong: any improvement in performance is due to random chance, what many people are familiar with as “regression to the mean.” It turns out that when you evaluate the effect of criticism vs. praise on performance scientifically, praise is the clear winner. We as computer programmers should use the same scientific logical approach to community management as we do for software development.

Read more at the USENIX web site.

Deleting Ada Lovelace from the history of computing

This is a repost of our Ada Lovelace Day 2012 article on the attempts to delete Countess Ada Lovelace from the history of computing, with minor updates and an announcement of the first Ada Lovelace conference in October 2013.

Ada Lovelace portrait

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace (full name: Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace) is a familiar figure in the history of computing. She is the world’s first computer programmer, writing the instructions to carry out a computer program on what would have been the world’s first computer if it had been built – the Analytical Engine, designed by famous inventor Charles Babbage.

Lovelace published the first computer program in a paper in 1843. Her paper was presented as “notes” on a previous, less complete paper on the subject which she also translated, but her “notes” were longer than the original paper and were considerably more insightful. She spent many months perfecting the paper, writing letters back and forth with Charles Babbage to check her work.

The depressing part? Some people argue that Lovelace did not write the first computer program, that Charles Babbage wrote it for her and she took the credit. Despite ample contemporary evidence in the form of Lovelace’s letters to Babbage while she was writing the Notes, people have many arguments (often tinged with anger and contempt) for why she didn’t write or even understand the first computer program.

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

Ada Lovelace: stupid, arrogant, and insane?

Arguments against Lovelace’s authorship include: Lovelace made mathematical mistakes when she was learning mathematics, Lovelace failed to correct a mathematical error introduced by a printer in a reprint of someone else’s work, Lovelace was literally insane, Lovelace had too high an opinion of herself, etc.

Interestingly, these arguments are rarely used to question men’s authorship of joint works; indeed mental instability or difficult personalities sometimes seems to add to the reputation of male scientists and mathematicians (Nikola Tesla, John Nash, and Isaac Newton, to name just a few). Certainly I’ve personally never seen a single published mathematical error (actually, in her case merely failure to correct someone else’s error) used as an argument against a male scientist’s competency as a whole.

As another example of the lengths to which Lovelace’s critics will go, Charles Babbage’s biography, written long after Lovelace’s death, has this statement on Lovelace’s paper:

I then suggested that she add some notes to Menabrea’s memoir, an idea which was immediately adopted. We discussed together the various illustrations that might be introduced: I suggested several but the selection was entirely her own. So also was the algebraic working out of the different problems, except, indeed, that relating to the numbers of Bernoulli, which I had offered to do to save Lady Lovelace the trouble. This she sent back to me for an amendment, having detected a grave mistake which I had made in the process.

People argue that “the algebraic working out” of the numbers of Bernoulli means that Babbage wrote the program to calculate the numbers of Bernoulli. Yet the paper contains an actual algebraic equation for calculating the numbers of Bernoulli – separate from the computer program – which would seem much more likely to be what Babbage is referring to.

Babbage's Difference Engine No. 2, CC BY-SA Canticle

Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 2, CC BY-SA Canticle

More contemporary evidence in Lovelace’s favor includes her extrapolations of what a general purpose computer could do, which stretched far beyond Babbage’s ideas for its use (printing mathematical tables, mostly). She even proposed that computers could make music – definitely not Babbage’s idea, since he was famous for his passionate hatred of music. The Computer History Museum’s biography of Ada Lovelace says:

The idea of a machine that could manipulate symbols in accordance with rules and that number could represent entities other than quantity mark the fundamental transition from calculation to computation. Ada was the first to explicitly articulate this notion and in this she appears to have seen further than Babbage.

On balance, the evidence would suggest, if anything, that Babbage was the person who did not fully understand the computing capabilities of his invention and Lovelace had the greater knowledge.

A woman in 18th c. French dress seated at a table with a book and holding a compass

Émilie du Châtelet

In the end, most arguments that Lovelace did not write the first program only make sense in the context of a common assumption: in any partnership between a man and woman, the man did the important work and the woman assisted and polished. Look at Voltaire and Émilie du Châtelet. Du Châtelet was a pioneer in the new discipline of physics, publishing several seminal papers in physics, a physics textbook, and a translation of Newton’s Principia Mathematica. Voltaire and du Châtelet were long-term collaborators in the areas of physics and mathematics, working closely on many works, as well as lovers. However, Voltaire’s primary or sole authorship of many of their joint works is rarely questioned.

As one example, only Voltaire’s name appeared on a book he published, of which he later wrote, “Minerva dictated, and I wrote.” Voltaire often referred to du Châtelet as Minerva (interesting in itself as it suggests that du Châtelet was a channel for the goddess of wisdom rather than the originator of her ideas). Is there any serious contention that Voltaire was not the primary author of his publications during the time he collaborated with du Châtelet? No. Was there plenty of evidence that she contributed significantly to his published works? Yes.

A book cover reading "How to Suppress Women's Writing" by Joanna RussHow to Suppress Women’s Writing” by Joanna Russ shows the patterns in how people dismiss women’s writing: “She didn’t write it. She wrote it but she shouldn’t have. She wrote it but look what she wrote about. She wrote it but she isn’t really an artist, and it isn’t really art,” ad nauseum. The exact same arguments are used by people trying to dismiss Lovelace’s programming, right down to “She wrote it but she isn’t really a programmer, and it isn’t really a program.”

Lovelace’s current Wikipedia page reflects the effect of thousands of people arguing against giving credit to Lovelace: “[…] She is often considered the world’s first computer programmer” – unfortunately, probably the most positive statement we can reasonably expect. But what Lovelace needs is not a better Wikipedia page, but a better biography.

Cover of book reading "Ada, Enchantress of Numbers; Poetical Science; Betty Alexandra Toole"The most evidence-based biography, “Ada: The Enchantress of Numbers,” by Betty Alexandra Toole, quotes heavily from Lovelace’s letters, but is written by someone without a deep understanding of computing. Other biographical works are written by people who appear to be heavily biased against Lovelace, often making extremely critical personal judgements and sweeping statements contradicting contemporary evidence without citing evidence to the contrary.

We’re beginning to make progress, though: the first Ada Lovelace conference is scheduled for October 18, 2013 at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. Created by Dr. Robin Hammerman, this conference will celebrate “Lovelace’s many achievements as well as the impact of her life and work, which reverberated through the sciences and humanities since the late nineteenth century. This conference heralds a recent resurgence in Lovelace scholarship thanks to the growth of interdisciplinary thinking and the expanding influence of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.” Ada Initiative executive director Valerie Aurora will be giving a keynote address, “Rebooting the Ada Lovelace Mythos.”

We should not be denigrating women’s accomplishments in science based on specious arguments about personality, occasional errors, and collaborations with men. That’s one of the purposes of Ada Lovelace Day: to bring recognition to women who have had credit for their accomplishments stolen from them.


Help give Ada Lovelace the credit she deserves

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 give women the credit they deserve in many areas: open source software, Wikipedia, open data, and others. You can be part of this fight 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 August 31st to get the Ada Lovelace pendant.

Donate now

First matching donation challenge: $500 from PalominoDB

PalominoDB logoOur first matching donation challenge comes from a woman-led open source services company! PalominoDB provides ongoing operational support and professional services around MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Cassandra with a focus on open-source technologies. Palomino also provides full stack support in in virtualized and cloud environments.

PalominoDB will match up to $500 of donations to the Ada Initiative in the next 24 hours, until 3pm PDT August 20th (22:00 UTC August 20).

Update: Our donors met the entire match within 5 hours! Thank you to PalominoDB, Pamela Chestek, Annalee Flower Horne, Robin Zebrowski, and two Anonymous Donors for raising $1000 to support women in open technology and culture. (You can still donate, of course!)

Donate now

A woman wearing glasses and smiling slightly

Laine Campbell, PalominoDB CEO

PalominoDB CEO Laine Campbell says, “Palomino supports the Ada Initiative because they are a woman-owned non-profit that is always striving to bring more women into their technology, support and leadership teams. As CEO, I’ve experienced the challenges of breaking into tech as a woman, as well as encouraged other women to grow, contribute and participate in the technical ecosystem. We’re excited to support and contribute to the Ada Initiative with its focus on open source community and technology.”

We are thrilled to be partnering with PalominoDB to support women business owners and founders. Our Impostor Syndrome training program helps women more accurately judge their abilities, and our AdaCamp unconference introduces women to other open tech/culture entrepreneurs and potential co-founders.

Join PalominoDB and Ada Initiative in supporting women in open source, open data, and other areas of open tech/culture! Donate now:

Donate now

Schwag done right: the Ada Lovelace pendant

One of the founding principles of the Ada Initiative (besides supporting women in open tech/culture) was no crappy schwag. Schwag is random logo-bearing promotional items like rickety pens, ugly water bottles, and the occasional lip gloss. Most schwag goes straight in the trash. Personally, I’ve thrown away too many neon-green foam beer cozies to be party to producing yet another useless piece of schwag doomed for the landfill.

Ada Lovelace pendant

Click for larger image

So we’re thrilled that people love our Ada Lovelace pendant. It’s a glass cabochon about 1 in. (2.59 cm) long, featuring our modern black and white version of Ada Lovelace’s portrait. I’m pretty sure zero of these pendants have gone into the trash!

You can get an Ada Lovelace pendant by donating $128 one-time or $10/month to the 2013 Ada Initiative fundraising drive today. The funds we raise by August 31 will determine what we can do in the following year to support women in open source, Wikipedia, open hardware, and similar areas: working for community codes of conduct, teaching Allies Workshops, and running the AdaCamp unconference for women, to name just a few. Thank you for doing your part to support women in open technology and culture!

Donate now

Ada Initiative meetup in Portland, Tuesday 7pm – 9pm

Women in open tech/cultureThe Ada Initiative is organizing a meetup during the Open Source Bridge conference in Portland, Oregon, at 7pm – 9pm on Tuesday June 17, 2013. We will meet at Huber’s Cafe in downtown Portland, a friendly restaurant and bar famous for its flaming Spanish Coffee. You are invited, whether you are attending Open Source Bridge or not!

Huber’s Cafe
411 SW 3rd Ave
Portland, OR 97204

7pm – 9pm, Tuesday June 17
Ask for reservation for “Aurora”

Lukas Blakk, panelist

Lukas Blakk, panelist

The Ada Initiative’s Valerie Aurora is moderating a panel on good news for diversity in open source at Open Source Bridge 2013, along with Ashe Dryden, Sumana Harihareswara, Lukas Blakk, Asheesh Laroia, and Liz Henry. Can’t be there in person? The session will be recorded and available for free on the OSBridge web site.

Bloomberg matches $5,000 JSConf US donation to Ada Initiative

bloomberg-logo-blkBloomberg, the financial news and information services company, announced it will donate $5,000 to the Ada Initiative to support women in open technology and culture.

Bloomberg, a leading sponsor of the 2013 JSConf U.S. conference, which kicked-off today in Amelia Island, Florida, was inspired by the generous $5,000 donation of JSConf attendees and organizers to the same cause.

Bloomberg’s philanthropic arm supports programs that feature “global reach, effective engagement, and innovation.” Combined with Bloomberg’s interest in supporting open source, the Ada Initiative’s mission and strategy support Bloomberg’s philanthropic goals.

Shawn Edwards, Bloomberg CTO, says, “Bloomberg is proud to be a part of the JSConf and the technology community that promotes the open exchange of ideas and technology on the Web. As the 5th annual event kicks off this week, we’re delighted to have had the chance to work with the JSConf organizers to fund the Ada Initiative, which encourages more women to contribute to, and thrive in, the the open-source community.”

AdaCamp logoWhat began as individual $10 donations from JSConf U.S. attendees became a $10,000 donation in support of Ada Initiative programs like AdaCamp, the world’s largest conference for women in open technology and culture, the Allies Workshop to teach simple skills to support women every day, and conference anti-harassment policies to make conferences safer and more welcoming to women.

Support for the female tech community, industry conferences and organizations are crucial to promoting more women as conference speakers and successes like those seen at PyCon U.S., which attracted a record 20% female audience.

Apply today: Linux kernel internships through Outreach Program for Women

Linux FoundationThe Linux Foundation is sponsoring the first ever Linux kernel internships offered through the Outreach Program for Women. The internships pay $5000, plus a $500 travel grant to the LinuxCon North America conference in New Orleans, Louisiana in September.

If you identify as a woman, genderqueer, or genderfluid, have ever wanted to learn to develop the Linux kernel, and have the free time to work on the internship, you should apply now! The deadline to finish your application is May 17, 2013, but please start your application by May 1.

Not sure you can write a good application? Lots of help is available: you can join a mailing list, ask questions on IRC, or email the mentors directly. You are encouraged to start your application now, and finish it by May 17th using any of these avenues for help.

We’re thrilled that the Linux Foundation and their mentors are taking this major step towards increasing diversity in the Linux kernel development community. Thank you, Linux Foundation, for creating these internships!

AdaCamp Allies Track expanded to a full day

AdaCamp logoBy popular request, we have expanded the allies track at AdaCamp San Francisco to a full day on Saturday, June 8, 2013. The allies track is for people of any gender who are eager to support women in open tech/culture. The support of allies is a vital part of the movement to make open technology and culture more welcoming to women and people of all genders.

The allies track schedule for Saturday, June 8, will be (ignoring break time):

9:30am – 10am Introduction
10am – 12pm Allies Workshop (led by Valerie Aurora)
12pm – 1pm Lunch with AdaCamp main track attendees
1pm – 5pm Unconference sessions

The unconference sessions will be proposed and chosen by the allies track attendees. Attendees of the main track are welcome to join the allies track at any time.

The registration fee for the allies track varies depending on financial need, from free to $100 (which covers the full per-person cost of running the allies track). You can apply to attend either track here. We are unfortunately unlikely to be able to award travel grants to allies track attendees, due to financial constraints.

The allies track on Saturday will be a fun, educational, and rewarding experience for people who want to learn more about supporting women in open tech/culture. We encourage you to apply today!


We thank our gold level sponsors Mozilla and Automattic; and our silver level sponsors Google Site Reliability Engineering, Linux Foundation, Red Hat, and Intel; for their support of AdaCamp San Francisco.

Photograph of the San Francisco cityscape

Welcoming first AdaCamp San Francisco sponsors: Google SRE, Linux Foundation, Red Hat, and Twitter

Google logo
Linux Foundation
Red Hat
Twitter logo

We’re thrilled to announce the first four sponsors of AdaCamp San Francisco (June 8–9, 2013): Google SRE (Site Reliability Engineering), Linux Foundation, Red Hat, and Twitter.

AdaCamp is the only conference for women in open technology and culture, which includes open source software, Wikipedia-related projects, open data, open geo, fan fiction, remix culture, and more. AdaCamp is a unique opportunity to meet, collaborate with, and reach out to women in all of these communities. AdaCamp San Francisco is the third AdaCamp, after AdaCamp DC and AdaCamp Melbourne in 2012.

Google is sponsoring AdaCamp for the third time, with Google SRE joining us as a silver sponsor of AdaCamp San Francisco and host of a conference reception. We also welcome return AdaCamp sponsors the Linux Foundation and Red Hat, at the silver level, and Twitter at the bronze level.

Interested in sponsoring AdaCamp? Email us at sponsors@adainitiative.org for more information. AdaCamp San Francisco will be the first AdaCamp in the Silicon Valley area, the heart of the open tech/culture revolution. Don’t miss this rare opportunity!

AdaCamp DC attendees

AdaCamp DC attendees

Interested in coming to AdaCamp San Francisco? AdaCamp SF is June 8-9, 2013. AdaCamp attendance is invitation-only with an open application process. We will open applications at the beginning of March. To receive early notification of applications opening, please complete our expressions of interest form.


We thank our silver level sponsors for their support of AdaCamp San Francisco: Google Site Reliability Engineering, Linux Foundation, and Red Hat.