Today is Ada Lovelace Day. Who is that? Oh, just the first computer programmer. Ever. Lovelace's friend Charles Babbage designed a concept for a machine he called the "Analytical Engine" -- essentially a mechanical computer that would have relied on punch cards to run programs. He recruited Lovelace to translate some notes from one of his lectures, but while Lovelace was translating she added to the notes herself. The notes grew to three times their original length, as Lovelace described what many call the first computer program. Because of funding issues, the machine was not built during her and Babbage's lifetimes. But Lovelace's published article on the Analytical Engine later became a source of inspiration for Alan Turing’s work to build the first modern computers in the 1940s.
Women are sometimes considered outsiders in the science and technology fields, but Lovelace and many of the female computer programmers who followed her are proof that this paucity is a function of society, not capability. We forget or never learn about the female "computers" who programmed early mechanical machines in World War II, or that the women's magazine Cosmopolitan once ran articles suggesting that women were perfectly suited for programming.
If the lack of acknowledgement of women's contributions to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields grinds your gears, you can help promote their legacy in Lovelace's honor today. Brown University and Wikipedia have organized a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon. From 3 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET, participants at Brown and those online will be creating, expanding or updating the Wikipedia pages of female STEM notables and pioneers.
The program aims to serve an additional purpose: Women are substantially underrepresented among Wikipedia contributors; a 2010 survey showed that less than 13 percent of Wiki contributors were female.
I've already chosen the woman I'm going to add to Wikipedia. Who's your pick?