Tuesday, October 11 is Ada Lovelace Day, founded in 2009 to recognize the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Held every year on the second Tuesday of October, Ada Lovelace Day is dedicated to not only shining a spotlight on women working in STEM, but also to encourage more girls to consider a STEM career.
Who Is Ada Lovelace, Anyway?
Ada Lovelace was a skilled mathematician who is credited with writing the first computer programs back in 1843 – well before computers actually existed. Born in 1815, Ada's father was the famous British poet Lord George Gordon Byron, better known as Lord Byron. While talented and rich, Lord Byron wasn't exactly a stellar dad. He kicked Ada's mother, Annabella Byron, out of his house about a month after Ada was born so he could carry on an affair with an actress. Lord Byron left England for good four months later and died when Ada was eight years old.
Ada's mother, afraid that young Ada would take after her father and his infamous "artistic" temperament, hired tutors to begin educating Ada in math and science when she was just four years old. It was unusual to begin a child's schooling so young, and it was practically unheard of to teach these subjects to a young woman in 19th-century England.
Ada showed a natural aptitude. At the age of 12, she studied birds' anatomy in order to design her own flying machine. She described it to her mother as a horse with wings, powered by a steam engine. While that idea never took flight (sorry), Ada's interest in math and science endured.
When Ada was 15, her mother hired Mary Somerville, the first female member of the Royal Astronomical Society, to tutor Ada. In 1833, Somerville introduced Ada to Charles Babbage, known today as the father of the computer. Babbage showed young Ada the prototype for his Difference Engine, an automatic mechanical calculator designed to tabulate polynomial functions.
Ten years later, at the age of 28, Ada published a scientific paper in collaboration with Babbage on his Analytical Engine. While the machine was never built, the paper written by Ada included what is now recognized as the first computer programs.
Why Ada Lovelace Matters Today
It's no big secret that women are underrepresented in tech, but the gap is getting bigger. According to a report by the American Association of University Women, women accounted for 35 percent of people in computing careers in 1990 and just 26 percent in 2013.
Women are also underrepresented in tech leadership roles. They only held 17 percent of Fortune 500 chief information officer (CIO) positions in 2015, according to a report [PDF] by the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT).
The report also notes that women…
- Earned 57 percent of all bachelor's degrees in 2014.
- Earned only 17 percent of computer and information sciences bachelor’s degrees.
The report also anticipates 1.1 million computer-related job openings in the US by 2024. Encouraging more women to enter computer science and tech fields can help fill this need.
Another incentive for more women to pursue a career in tech? These jobs tend to pay well. The average salary is about $85,000, according to a report by Dice.
To encourage more young women to pursue a career in computing and IT, various organizations have sprung up across the country, such as Girl Develop It and Girls Who Code. There is an even a year-long, tuition-free software developer training school for women located in Seattle: Ada Developers Academy. The school was founded in 2013 and boasts a 97 percent placement rate for its graduates, who typically command starting salaries of $87,000.
If you're interested in learning more about careers, colleges, and scholarships for women in tech, check out these Computer Science Online resources to get started. If you'd like to find out about non-traditional programs designed to quickly prepare you for a career in IT, read "How to Launch a Second Career in IT in 3 Months."