~robcee/ more than just sandwiches

7 October 2011 @ 12pm

General, Mozilla

Lady Ada Day

October 7th is Lady Ada Lovelace Day. I’m going to mark it in my calendar.

In my earlier years, I was always intrigued by the story of Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine, well before reading the steam-punk confection of the same name by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. Even more intriguing was the woman in the story, the Lady Ada Lovelace. Ostensibly, the world’s first computer programmer, she didn’t let a minor thing like not having an actual computer to work with hold her back. She was a visionary, her mind exceeding the technical capabilities of the day to foresee a world of general purpose, programmable computation machinery.

Like many others, I still find her a fascinating character; a noble, the daughter of the darkly-twisted poet Lord Byron, perhaps a little sickly, taking interest in an intellectual exercise inhabited entirely by men and producing code! What would she think of software and computing today? Of the social aspects of open source code? Would she find it mendacious and boring because anybody could do it or would she take it to new and exciting places?

Things are different today, though not as much as we might like. Women have made considerable contributions to the fields of math and computer science. Names like Adele Goldberg, Anita Borg and Grace Hopper command well-deserved reverence. I have the great fortune to work alongside some truly brilliant women here at Mozilla, both in code and within other important areas of the organization. I live with one of them and if I didn’t think it would be a little awkward for both of us, I could tell you just how inspiring she has been to me. I think Lady Ada would be pleased to know any of them.

(I tried to find an image of Grace Hopper and some old machinery, but I couldn’t find anything CC-licensed. Instead, I will link to the Flickr Blog post which has some neat pics).