Happy Ada Lovelace Day! You didn’t know it was Ada Lovelace Day? Not surprising, since this is only the 6th year we're celebrating a holiday invented by one hopeful woman, Suw Charman-Anderson. Ada Lovelace Day is designed to celebrate women in technology, engineering, science, and mathematics (STEM).
Let me tell you a very personal story about why Lovelace matters. My daughter goes to a school which hosts "Historical Halloween." Students are allowed to come to school in a costume for Halloween. They have to pick a historical figure to be, and write a report on that person. Here's the thing: There can be no duplicates. Only one child gets his or her pick in the event that more than one student wants to dress up as the same person.
On the day that the 4th graders found out who they could dress up as for Halloween, my daughter discovered her best friend crying in the restroom because she couldn't be Ada Lovelace. How cool is it that there are at least two 4th grade girls in my daughter's school -- among a total of about 80 4th graders -- who are not only aware of Lovelace, but were vying for a chance to pretend they were Lovelace for a day. One child ended up thrilled, the other heartbroken.
Little girls, at least these two little girls, are starving for technology role models. They're dying to learn everything they can about the girls and women who crashed through barriers in science and technology. Ada Lovelace Day matters to little girls, even the ones who have never heard of Lovelace or been told that she has a special day.
The number of women in IT is actually dropping. While women earned 57% of the undergraduate degrees in the US in 2012, only 18% of computer science degrees were earned by women that year. In 1985, 37% of computer science degrees were earned by women.
[One possible reason women aren't going into IT? The persistent geek image. Read Want More Women in IT? Drop the Geek.]
Not only are girls not going into technology, but the number of available role models is shrinking. The fewer women in IT today, the less likely we will add more names to a list that includes Lovelace, Grace Hopper, and Erna Schneider Hoover.
If you care about IT, if you care about technology, science, or engineering, and you care about little girls, you should care about Ada Lovelace Day.
Lovelace is often called the first computer programmer. She was the daughter of the poet Lord Byron and, as such, had special access to science and math education that wasn't readily available to many women of the 19th century. (Her father died shortly after she was born.) She worked with Charles Babbage on his mechanical computer, the Analytical Engine. She wrote algorithms for the Analytical Engine, and is credited as the first programmer. She's also widely credited with having a vision of the computer as more than a calculator.
The best way to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day is to encourage a young woman you know to get into STEM. Beyond that, there are yearly events you can participate in. Here at InformationWeek and our sister sites we want to encourage women in IT. We have done things such as identifying which enterprises are best for women in IT, highlighting resources for women in tech, and offering lessons for women in leadership on our IT Life Radio show.
Happy Ada Lovelace Day. I hope you take some time to inspire a girl or young woman to pursue a career in STEM today.
Please, use the comments section below to tell us about your heroes in IT, and share your ideas on what we can do to inspire today's girls to grow up to be our next generation of women in IT.