Celebrate Ada Lovelace, the 'Enchantress of Numbers'

If your spouse is a poet, and said spouse leaves you with a month-old baby to raise on your own, and you now despise that spouse/poet, is that a good reason to foster a love of science and mathematics in your child so that she won’t grow up to be a poet? Nancy Bartels, my counterpart on Control, posed that question to me the other day. My response: Sure, that's as good a reason as any.

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a day that reminds us of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and encourages young girls everywhere to follow in their footsteps—whether or not their fathers happen to be poets who happen to be cads.

If you haven’t heard of Ada Lovelace, you’ve probably heard of her father, the poet Lord Byron. August Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, was born Augusta Ada Byron as the only (legitimate) child of Byron. She’s known in particular for her work with inventor Charles Babbage and his analytical engine, and is widely considered to be the first computer programmer.

Spite for Ada’s father is perhaps not the only reason that Ada’s mother encouraged a love of math and science. Her mother reportedly loved math herself. Regardless of the reason, Ada grew to have a very good understanding of technology (as it was in the 1800s), and made incredible strides at a time when women weren’t encouraged to study anything of much seriousness. Unfortunately, she was ill much of her life, and died at the tender young age of 36.

But girls today are strongly encouraged to follow their dreams in engineering, science, you name it. Right? Uh, well, not exactly. So take this moment today to grab your daughter, your granddaughter, your niece, your next-door neighbor…and show her this video from BrainPop. If you have school-age children at home, you might already be familiar with Tim and his robot Moby. They do a pretty good job of explaining sometimes complex subjects, and do a nice job here of explaining the importance of Ada Lovelace’s work.

Aaron Hand is the managing editor for Control Design and for Industrial Networking. Email him at ahand@putman.net or check out his Google+ profile.