Ada Lovelace

Background

Ada Lovelace is often considered the world's first computer programmer, her notes from her work with Charles Babbage on his "analytical engine" (an early mechanical computer) including the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine.

Why we need Ada's lessons even more today

I grew up just around the corner from where Ada Lovelace lived and worked, in Horsley Towers, Surrey. I fondly remember my Dad telling me how the first programmer was a woman. Computers fascinated me too, and I started programming when I was just 9. By 11 I was being formally taught programming at school. Today I am a very successful technology entrepreneur.

From those auspicious beginnings with Ada things have gone from bad to worse. In Britain today, women now account for only 11% of IT professionals working within the IT sector, and that is harming our industry (women in IT scorecard). You might say, "well what about you?". I was born a boy (I'm transgendered, so have a girl's brain but was anotomically male) and encouraged in scientific/technological directions. My sister by contrast was not. I am sorry to say that I fear this trend continues even today.

However, as an employer it is not just female programmers and systems administrators I struggle to find (and trust me, they are gold dust), but good information technology professionals of either gender. It is really hard work just getting the numbers of applications we need for our positions.

I blame this largely on today's educational system. Teenagers are taught that ICT means "Microsoft Office", and is thus tedious, and are denied the delights of making a computer do something novel that no one else has done - a raw creative exercise. It was the creative aspect that really got me into programming - coding sprites for computer games and such. There also seems to be a perception once more than programming is far too advanced for kids. It is not. My friends and I were coding on our BBC Microcomputers before we were teenagers, and it is from that which my own passion was formed.

We should use Ada to remind ourselves of the importance of diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths for UK Plc too. More than ever in the new global economic world order where we can only compete with our brains, not our resources or cheap labor, we need to be engaging kids of both genders with science and technology - our future work force. We have an opporunity to excel as a nation on the global stage as outstanding in computer sciente, but we will fail and diminish if we don't start engaging kids from a young age.

Kate Craig-Wood
Technology entrepreneur