Category Archives: Ada Lovelace

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.

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!

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