I am prepping a communication history course for the spring semester, and in the chapter devoted to early computers I came across a name that I did not remember from my own time as an undergrad: Ada Lovelace.

The daughter of renowned poet, Lord Byron (yawn), she was a mathematician and writer from England who saw Charles Babbage’s proto-computer, the Analytical Engine, and recognized it for what it was – the future. She used it to create the world’s very first algorithm when she was still in her twenties.

The first programmer in history was a woman. She was a nerd, and she set the tone for the rest of us to follow.

Want historical proof that Ada Lovelace was a geek at heart? Here are some facts from her youth that may sound familiar:

  • Spent a lot of time indoors – As a youth, Ada was not the healthiest of girls. As a result, she spent a lot of time studying.
  • Loved to read – Being the daughter of a world-renowned poet, I suppose this was a foregone conclusion. 
  • Wanted to be a superhero – When she was 12, Ada became obsessed with the idea of learning how to fly. She studied birds and the physics of flight and even wrote a guide on the subject of flight.

She would have fit right in at Comic Con with the rest of us, dressed like Captain Janeway with a Nintendo Switch in her hands. So what went wrong?

If a woman invented programming, why are there so few female programmers?

I suppose it’s mostly because smart women tend to scare men. Ada Lovelace had the advantage of being an educated woman with her own money and a celebrity father. She could do what she wanted, with or without the help or guidance of a man. But other women could not follow in her footsteps because they needed the approval of males, whether it was their fathers, husbands or employers. And those men tended to think of the women in their lives as wives, mothers, cooks and nurses – not superheroes.

And that’s why we’re still stuck in a rut today. Young girls continue to shy away from the STEM (science technology engineering and math) professions and when they do choose to take part, companies tend to pay them less than their male counterparts. Now that women can make their own decisions and chart their own courses, we need a modern day Ada Lovelace to inspire them.

Here at {code} Roadies, I’m proud to say that our first programmer was a woman, and we’ve never looked back. Currently, Amber Saukkola is an important part of our team – successfully balancing life as a mom and wife with life as a nerd, cranking out code, designing UI, shaping our strategies for SEM and drinking the most uniquely flavored energy drinks I’ve ever seen.

My own daughter is in college studying to become a data analyst, and when she called the other day and told me how she had made a presentation about using Blockchain to advance medical technology, I looked a little bit like the Grinch when he gets a big idea. Look out old boy nerd network – they’re coming for you whether you like it or not.

Thanks, Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace (yep, that was her real name). You didn’t need to fly to be a hero, and it’s time for your daughters to pick up where you left off.