Coffee With…Ada Lovelace

Cammy: Would I have coffee with one of the Patron Saints of Girl!!Geeks the world over?  Hell, yeah.  Ada Lovelace (actually Augusta Ada King nee Byron), born 10 December 1815, was the only legitimate offspring of Lord Byron.  Within a month of her birth, Ada’s parents were separated.  Ada never had a real relationship with her father, something that suited Ada’s mother just fine.  Momma was so concerned that Ada might harbor the insane poet tendencies of her father that she insisted Ada receive education in mathematics, science and logic. This is the kid whose Mom would have shit a brick if someone gave little Ada a “Math is Hard” Barbie.

All this laid the foundation for something amazing.  Something that every woman who’s ever dealt with the chauvenistic ass-hattery of the male-dominated computer science lab:

Ada Lovelace is the worlds first computer programmer.

She corresponded with various and sundry scientific minds of the time, including Charles Babbage, who originated the entire concept of the programmable computer–his “Analytical Engine.”  Italian Mathematician Luigi Menabrea wrote a paper on the Analytical Engine which Ada undertook to translate.  In doing so, she added her own notes in an appendix.  The notes (which were longer than Menabrea’s paper itself) contained Ada’s detailed instructions for calculating Bernoulli’s numbers on the Analytical Engine.  This set of instructions is the first computer program.

The woman is straight-up, undeniable street cred for every woman who’s ever had her presence in the lab questioned (yes, it happens, even today).  For this, I owe her coffee.  Or a beer, or the most expensive wine available at the bar.  And naturally I want to pick her brain about her opinions on women in math and science.  Would she be appalled that we’re not further along on this front?

Kristy: This might be a situation where I’d be more comfortable sending her a nice bottle of wine anonymously from across the bar.  Because everything that Cammy just said about her street cred and badassery is absolutely true.  And I’m, personally appalled that we haven’t made more progress on the women in science front.  Because as many women as have made amazing achievements in the field, I know from my friends that they still get treated too often as second class in the science field.

On the other hand, I outright suck at math and science.  And I spent my whole life being told by guidance counsellors that because I was smart I should concentrate in science (the humanities were for people who weren’t quite as smart).  (My field sits halfway between the humanities and the social sciences.  A generation ago it was just as male dominated as most sciences, but somehow we managed to have more success here.)  And I’ve always felt like I kind of betrayed the sisterhood for not trying to help break some barriers in the science realm.  I am fully aware that between my lack of ability and my lack of desire to be there I would have done more harm than good to the cause of women in science, and yet… I guess I just internalized too many criticisms.

Anyway, my knowledge of Lady Lovelace is limited, but I haven’t seen a single thing to indicate she would be rude to me (hell, in her day my field was classified as a science, so I might look better in her eyes than in my contemporaries).  We can easily avoid the subject of her daddy (I like his poetry, but I’m more than willing to recognize he was a douche.  And an f’ed up one at that).  I just think I’d feel like a loser the whole time.  Yes, I’m neurotic, but there it is.  So… I do want to buy her a drink, I just think I’ll let her and Cammy talk on their own.