The Enchantress of Numbers

Ada Lovelace

I have a minor knowledge of computer science. In that I literally have a minor in computer science.

There were never many other women around, even the huge lecture-hall classes. My classmates were somewhat confused about why I was there; not only was I only taking a few CS classes for my minor, I was also an art student. Baffling! So we didn’t hang out, and I essentially solo-ed my way through anything that wasn’t a team project. Still, I felt that my outsider status was more because I couldn’t talk about the other classes they were taking than because I wasn’t a dude.

Since I was a bit of a loner (Dottie, a rebel) around the engineering building, it wasn’t really until the last class I needed to complete my minor that I really noticed the insane testosterone content of my class. At the beginning of the semester, there were six ladies out of 32 students. Three sat for the final.

THREE. Three women in a 300-level class.

Where’d they all go?

I mean, I’m sure they found other majors, or dropped to re-take the class again, or *something*… they didn’t just fall off the face of the earth, right? So the better question is *why* did they all go? And can they be convinced to return? Or can we get a better male/female ratio into the classes to begin with?

And if a bunch of the very first computer scientists were women, how the hell did this happen?

And here I digress. I must make sure, do you know Ada Lovelace? The woman considered to be the first computer programmer? Before computers even existed? Or Grace Hopper, developer of the first compiler? Kay McNulty or Alice Burks, some of the human “computers” who created the tables that eventually led to ENIAC? Adele Goldstine, who revamped ENIAC into a stored program? Betty Holberton, who let us type commands rather than rewire hardware like old-school telephone operators? Evelyn Boyd Granville, developer of trajectory programs for the space program? Do I ask too much?

Ada Lovelace

It is in recognition of that first fantastic female that Ada Lovelace Day was started in 2009. Suw Charman-Anderson made an online pledge to blog about women in technology if 1,000 others would do the same. This pledge was ultimately signed by nearly twice that many people, and the initiative has been growing ever since.

And Ada Lovelace Day is TODAY! Like, right now! Google that thing!

The idea is pretty simple: to promote and create new role models for women and girls in traditionally male-dominated fields, make some virtual noise about awesome women who have inspired you in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fields. It’s a pretty broad range, and it’s safe to say you may know one (or a few dozen) of these fantastic ladies. So blog, tweet, draw, update, podcast, do some performance art out on the street, anything you like.

So what are you doing for Ada Lovelace Day?

(You should totally make your own Ada Lovelace paper doll, btw.)

Beth is a graphic designer in Chicago, a superhero in her own mind, and absolutely nothing on TV. She wrangles fonts professionally, pummels code amateurishly, and has been known to shove fire in her face for fun. Fond of volunteering, late-night bursts of productivity, and making snacks, she dislikes grocery shopping and public transit and still does not own a smartphone. Her opinion is that you should try everything twice; if you don't like it, you were probably doing it wrong the first time around.
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