March 24th is remembered by some as Ada Lovelace day. For those of you who have no idea who Ada Lovelace is, let us get acquainted. Ada Lovelace was the first child of famous poet Lord Byron and as he was disappointed in her gender and took no real interest in her, her mother took to schooling her in mathematics and science to prove her worth to both her father and society. Born in 1815 to high society where women were not expected to have a career or even a higher education, Ada was something of an anomaly. It is said that her mother exposed Ada to mathematics and science to root out the madness that Lord Byron was purported to show. Lord Byron clearly given to whatever proclivity overcame him and famous for many affairs and improper sexual relationships of the day, was not necessarily mad, but one can see why his wife might claim him to be.
But why a day to remember the scorned child of a famous author? Because Ada was famous in her own right and many say 150 years ahead of her time. Ada befriended inventor, philosopher and mechanical engineer Charles Babbage. Charles Babbage conceived of a machine to help with mathematical calculations called the Analytical Engine . Ada is best remembered for writing a translation and annotation to a paper describing the Analytical Engine that was so detailed and included a way to calculate numbers using the Engine, that many proclaim was the foundation of programming and she is credited with conceiving of the idea of software 100 years before it would be required.
And so on this day we are encouraged to remember women in technology as a way of honoring those who come before us.
I want to recognize two amazing women I have had the privilege to know in my amazing accidental career in high tech.
Joanna, whom I met in my most recent job, is in the very unsexy high tech field of capital equipment. Joanna is about 15 years older than me. I can remember the first time I saw a computer, it was in a very large room at my university and we had to feed it cards to get our statistics data out of it. This was closely followed by the arrival of brand new Apple Macintosh personal computers that our school was testing. Before I even laid eyes on the giant Vax at school, Joanna was working in a lab at Intel hand processing 2 inch wafers that would become the precursors to the 8086 processor chip technology. She has the most amazing stories to tell about the early days in Intel. And the most fascinating mind who loves to discuss things like Jazz music and early California history.
Alison is almost her complete opposite. 15 years younger than me, Alison never really knew a life without computers. Finishing high school in 3 years with one abroad in Argentina, she graduated valedictorian but was not admitted to Stanford because she did not have 4 years of high school class work. She instead chose NYU and entered the medical program but quickly discovered she didn’t really want to be a doctor. Switching to computer science, she let her analytical skills run wild. Employed by Netscape pre IPO, and having served a stint at a major cell phone provider bought out by one the largest cell phone companies in France, Orange. She most recently serves as head of technical support for a large email security provider. Alison is the most intelligent and yet compassionate (they are sometimes mutually exclusive) woman in business I know. She completely understands what technology can bring our a crazy over connected lives and utilizes it to the fullest but not at the expense of personal relationships and personal fulfillment.
These two very different ladies bookmark the opposite ends of an amazing time in our history and technological advancement that I like to compare to a life spanning the invention of electricity. There are some many wonderful things that computer technology has unfolded for us and many more that I cannot even dream of. So thank you Ada, for giving us the ideas that helped spawn a tech revolution and for being in a woman in technology far ahead of your time.
Some day more people may know who Ada Lovelace is than know her famous father. She left us a far more valuable gift and today in her honor I say thank you.