Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace in 1838
Photo in the Public Domain

Liz Waid and Colin Lowther tell about Ada Lovelace, the women who wrote the world's first computer program.

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Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Colin Lowther. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

Almost every part of human life on earth today involves computers. Computers manage almost all of our banking, communication, information, health care, and government systems. But computer programs are all designed by people who work as computer programmers. So who are the computer programmers who design the programs that manage our lives?

Voice 2 

Imagine a computer programmer - a person, working at a computer, writing a program. Did you imagine a man, or a woman? Most people would imagine a man. This is for a good reason. The majority of people designing today's computer programs are men. Many people think that women are not as able as men to have technology jobs. They think men are better than women in subjects like science and maths. But it was not always like that.

Voice 1 

In fact, a woman wrote the world’s very first computer program. Her name was Ada Lovelace. And she wrote her computer program before computers were even invented. Today's Spotlight is on Ada Lovelace.

Voice 2 

Ada Lovelace was born in England in 1815. She was the daughter of Lord and Lady Byron. Lord Byron was a very famous writer. He is especially famous for his poetry about love and emotions. But he lived a wild life. His marriage to Lady Byron was very troubled. It ended one month after their daughter Ada was born. Ada Lovelace never met her father. He died when she was only eight years old.

Voice 1 

Many women in the 18th and 19th centuries had very few chances in life. But Lady Byron's parents gave her an excellent education. She wanted to give her daughter, Ada, a good education too. But Lady Byron was also afraid. She did not want Ada to become like her father, Lord Byron. So Lady Byron encouraged Ada to study math and science instead of just poetry and literature.

Voice 2 

Even as a young girl, Lovelace was extremely good at maths. One of her teachers was Mary Sommerville. Sommerville was a well-known scientist, even though she was a woman. When Lovelace was 18, Sommerville introduced her to Charles Babbage. Babbage was a famous inventor and engineer. Lovelace loved his inventions and Babbage loved her intelligent mind. They became friends for life.

Voice 1 

When Lovelace was 19, she married William King. King later became the Earl of Lovelace. So Ada became the Countess of Lovelace. This is where her name came from.  Her husband encouraged her studies of math and science. Many men at the time would not have done this. Her husband also encouraged her friendship with Babbage.

Voice 2 

Babbage and Lovelace's friendship led to Lovelace becoming the world's first computer programmer. Babbage received money from the British government to build machines. His machines used theories of numbers to solve problems. One of his machines, called the Analytical Engine, was an early version of today's computers. Lovelace was deeply interested in Babbage's Analytical Engine. She learned everything she could about it. Some people think that she understood the machine even better than Babbage did himself.

Voice 1 

In 1842, Babbage needed someone to translate a paper on his Analytical Engine. Babbage asked Lovelace to translate the paper. He even asked her to add her own notes and ideas. So Lovelace explained the Analytical Engine. She also included her own ideas. When she was finished, she had made Babbage’s paper three times longer! And in her notes, Lovelace had written a computer program. It used a math formula called Bernoulli’s Number. She wrote in a letter to Babbage,

Voice 3 

"I want to put in something about Bernoulli’s Number. It will be in one of my notes, as an example. It will be an example of how the engine can work out a particular answer without human head and hands working it out first."

Voice 2 

Her example contained a full set of steps that a machine could use to reach the answer to a problem. It was the first ever recorded computer program.

Voice 1 

Lovelace's notes also show that she saw how important computers could be in the future. Most other scientists did not yet realize this. She believed that computing machines could do more than just solve math problems. She saw that anything could have a mathematical relation - even music. Lovelace saw the possibilities of computers before they were even invented!

Voice 2 

Sadly, Ada Lovelace died young. She had cancer. She was just 36. She never got a chance to see any of her ideas come to life.

Voice 1 

However, Lovelace’s work continued to be important after her death. 100 years later, a man named Alan Turing discovered Lovelace's notes. Turing was working for the British government during World War II. At that time, the German army was communicating using secret codes. These codes prevented the British army from understanding the messages. Turing was looking for mathematical ways to understand these secret messages. Lovelace's ideas were important to Turing's thinking on computers. And Alan Turing became one of world's first and most important computer scientists.

Voice 2 

Ada Lovelace’s situation was unusual. She was born in a time when women did not have many chances in life. But Lovelace was wealthy. She had a mother who made sure she had an education. Her husband also encouraged her. This was not common for most women in her time period. Because of her unusual chances, Lovelace proved that women could have amazing minds for maths and science.

Voice 1 

There have been many women since Lovelace who are successful in math and science. In fact, many of the first computer programmers in the 1950s and 1960s were women. And yet, many people still hold false ideas about women’s minds. This is a stereotype of all women. It is a common belief that women do not have the right intelligence for math and science. But not everyone believes these stereotypes. Tae Yoo works in a high-level position for the technology company Cisco. She writes in the Huffington Post,

Voice 4 

"I believe bringing more women to computer jobs is extremely important to society. If we do not have enough people with computer skills to manage and protect the computer systems that power our lives, we are in serious trouble."

Voice 2 

Computers, science and technology are more and more important for people today. Will women be able to have a fair chance to succeed in these fields? Listen for another Spotlight program on the role of women in the fields of science and technology.

Voice 1 

The writer of this program was Jen Hawkins. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at This program is called, “Ada Lovelace."

Voice 2 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye!

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Do you think what a young woman learns as a child will influence her future? How?


Learning Everything's avatar
Learning Everything
said on March 16, 2015

After I read this topic. I am very suprise because the first people who was programer computer is a women.

Thanks Spotlight. GOD bless everyone.

Edison QuisiguiƱa's avatar
Edison QuisiguiƱa
said on March 18, 2015

Yes, definitely it influences the live of a child (girl or boy).

I also think that science is a very fascinating subject, I think that with the correct guide we can achieve important things in this field.

A fraternal embrace Spotlight, God bless you :)

JoaoVBR's avatar
said on March 22, 2015

I think that we can develop our lives the way we want and in how long we want to, but we need knowledge and information do to this.
What is lacking in the world are people who want to transmit information and people who wish to get knowledge, but Lovelace could do this! She was a incredible visionary for her time. Unfortunately, she died young.
Good program, Spotlight.

Avatar Spotlight
said on April 04, 2016

Hi, I’m programmer and i don’t know. this program is amazing thanks.

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on April 14, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight
Subject: answer to the question above
Date: Thursday 14, April 2016

Dear Liz Waid, Colin Lowther, Jen Hawkins, and Michio Ozaki:

First, I want to thank you to develop more one great issue for us readers and learners of English.
Yes, I do. Of course. And It will not influence her future. She will be more and more intelligent.

All the best,
Severino Ramos

Avatar Spotlight
said on April 15, 2016

I think nowadays women have still more and more chances of getting an indispensable position in the different scientific branches including computer jobs.
Ada Lovelace living in the 19th century proved the high intelligence just as foresight when she saw the possibilities of computers long time before they were invented.
There is also the astonishing fact Lovelac’s work showed to be important, helpful even after her death during World War II!
Thanks Spotlight team for excellent program!

Avatar Spotlight
said on April 11, 2019

Yes I think. Why do parents give dolls to their daughters and balls to their boys? When a girl goes to school, she is warned against the dangers that exist in the streets, but the boy is encouraged to confront them. Our daughters are taught to be mothers and our children are taught to be warriors. So the position of women in society is determined by their own family attitudes.