Today, Tuesday 14th October, is Ada Lovelace Day. But who was Ada Lovelace? Well, in a sector so deeply dominated by males, it is important to remember that many of the earliest advances in computing and technology were actually achieved by females – and Ada Lovelace was once of the first.
Born in 1815, Lovelace studied maths and logic out of personal interest, befriended and worked with mathematician Charles Babbage and her ideas for how Babbage’s Analytical Engine might work provide foundational theory for modern computer science. And this is exactly why Ada Lovelace Day was founded – to celebrate the achievements and provide encouragement for all women engaged in STEM – Science, Technology and Maths subjects.
But of course, even though Ada Lovelace was arguably one of the first, and certainly the first female computer programmers, many women have followed in her footsteps as ground-breakers in the area.
Dina St Johnston left school at 17 to join the pioneering computer company Elliot Brothers where she learnt programming – and soon spotted a huge gap in the market. Programmers were not selling directly to industry. St Johnston seized this opportunity and, using her maiden name, founded Vaughan Programming Services in 1959 – the very first software house in the UK, writing programmes for clients as diverse as the BBC, BAA, Unilever and British Rail. Many of the interactions with technology we have at railway stations, like live passenger information systems have their roots in systems created by St Johnston.
Stephanie ‘Steve’ Shirley arrived in Britain as a child holocaust survivor in 1939 – a ‘guilt’ which she believes gave her a strong drive for success. After completing a maths degree at night school, Shirley founded Freelance Programmers from her house in 1962 and was committed to both her company and her family. The importance of this dual role led Shirley to empower other women to follow the same path and until the Equal Opportunities Act of 1975, Freelance Programmers only employed women. Selling software to the banking, telecoms and transportation sector, Shirley’s company, was renamed Xansa and listed on the FTSE-250.
These are three women that have provided real change in a sector that has always, on the surface at least, been very male dominated. And the exciting thing is that with the opportunities that are available now we are telling all women that STEM subjects are not only fast paced, they are rewarding and enable real life changes to be developed and implemented for us all.
So could you – your friend, sister, daughter or mother be the next Ada Lovelace? Why not?