A Lesson in Code and Craft from Ada

The year was 1815. 

Annabella Milbanke, a deeply religious and mathematically gifted young lady from an aristocratic family, had just given birth. The child’s father was Lord Byron, the great Romantic poet and a notorious playboy. 

A scandal was inevitable. 

Just three days later, Byron would set sail away from England with his mistress, never to see his child again. Annabella resolved then and there that her daughter would be everything her father was not. She would not have a mind that ran wild. She would not be ruled by passion. She would not be a poet.

And, so, a one Ms Ada Lovelace was raised on a diet of science and mathematics, designed to keep her imagination at bay.

Luckily, the industrial revolution was in full swing at the very doorstep Ada was to be raised. The ability to apply imagination to science was integral to the revolution. It was the people who were building bridges who were also publishing poetry. 

Ada would meet Charles Babbage, a polymath who, inspired by the Jacquard loom’s use in the textile industry, invented the first mechanical computer, his “Analytical Engine”. The connection between Babbage’s invention and the discipline of textile design was not lost to Ada, as she would observe: 

The Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns, just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves.

Through her imagination, Ada was able to create what many consider to be the very first computer program. By connecting both her inner poet and mathematician, she was able to apply computing concepts in a way that others hadn’t before:

I do not believe that my father was (or ever could have been) such a Poet as I shall be an Analyst; for with me the two go together indissolubly

Back to 2021, and I’m just one of many software engineers who continue to find inspiration through the story of Ada Lovelace. In particular, for me, her ability to draw connections between coding and craft stand out. I believe we’d all benefit from understanding and seeing the connections between different disciplines. To quote Leonardo da Vinci, a poster child for polymaths everywhere:

To develop a complete mind: Study the science of art; Study the art of science. Learn how to see. Realise that everything connects to everything else.

Whether it’s writing, sewing, playing music, coding… I struggle to think of any discipline that wouldn’t benefit from both the logical and playful parts of your mind. To me, to be creative is to be technical and to be technical is to be creative. I’d challenge anyone to resist being pigeon-holed into being only one or the other, just like Ada did.

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