4 Career Lessons from Ada Lovelace’s Remarkable Legacy

What career lessons can we learn from Ada Lovelace?

4 Career Lessons from Ada Lovelace’s Remarkable Legacy

On the second Tuesday in October each year, we honour Ada Lovelace, widely considered the world’s first programmer. Ada Lovelace Day celebrates the achievements of women in STEM and inspires girls and women to pursue STEM careers. 

Who was Ada Lovelace?

Born over 200 years ago, Ada Augustus Byron contributed to the foundation of modern computing as we know it today. In 1833, she met Charles Babbage, dubbed the “father of the computer”. Babbage had devised the idea for the Analytical Engine, a programmable computer for calculating mathematical operations. Lovelace took a keen interest in Babbage’s work, and a lifelong friendship and collaboration between Lovelace and Babbage was born. 

Experimental model of Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine. Two metallic contraptions on a wooden board.
Experimental model of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, c 1870

What was Ada Lovelace’s legacy?

Lovelace’s legacy is built on her insightful exposition of Babbage’s Analytical Engine. She authored an algorithm to compute Bernoulli numbers (often regarded as the first computer program), which included line-by-line steps and nested loops. She was able to see the potential for Babbage’s machine to go beyond calculating numbers to computing other abstractions, such as symbols and music. 

What lessons can we learn from Ada Lovelace’s Life and Legacy?

Lovelace was a spirited, lively and fiercely intelligent woman whose achievements were nothing short of visionary. Sadly, she died of cancer at only 36, but her legacy and life story hold many lessons for those forging a career in technology. 

Lesson 1: The importance of continuous learning

As technology professionals, continuous learning is necessary to stay relevant, particularly in our fast-paced and rapidly evolving sector.

Ada Lovelace’s mother, Anne Isabella Milbanke was adamant that Lovelace received a rigorous education rooted in science and mathematics, defying the conventions for women at the time. She ensured Ada had access to tutors and was immersed in a curriculum that was rich in science, mathematics, logic, literature, chemistry and geography. 

Throughout her life, Ada Lovelace continued investing in her intellectual development. During the height of her fascination with the Analytical Engine, she wrote “I think I am more determined than ever in my future plans, and I have quite made up my mind that nothing must be suffered to interfere with them. I intend to make such arrangements in town as will secure me a couple of hours daily (with very few exceptions) for my studies.” 

Screenshot from Kaleida's career growth platform showing different growth areas that software engineers can focus on.
Take inspiration from Ada Lovelace by investing in your career development. Kaleida’s Career Growth Plan makes it easy to determine where to focus your time and resources for professional development. Set concrete actions to achieve your career goals faster.

Lesson 2: The importance of recording and owning your accomplishments 

Ada Lovelace’s most influential writing was a translation of the Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea’s paper, which he had written after attending a lecture given by Babbage on the Analytical Engine. With her in-depth understanding of Babbage’s machine, Lovelace translated the paper into English and appended a series of notes that further developed and explained Babbage’s concepts.

The notes contain her now famous Note ‘G’, the algorithm for computing Bernoulli numbers.

Paper with table and written calculations - Ada Lovelace's famous note 'G'.
Ada Lovelace’s Note G.

At one point, Lovelace did not intend to sign the translation and notes, but did so at the urging of her husband. 

“It is not my wish to proclaim who has written it; at the same time I rather wish to append anything that may tend hereafter to individualize & identify it, with the other productions of the said A.A.L. (Ada Augusta Lovelace).” 

Fortunately, she did. Otherwise, it could have easily led to the invalidation of her achievements. Given the gender biases at the time, her work might have been attributed to a male author if it had been published anonymously, or led to further skepticism and debate on her contributions.  

Screenshot from Kaleida program with the ability for individuals to add contributions demonstrating their proficiency in a particular skill.
Technology professionals benefit from recording our achievements and grounding them with concrete data. Kaleida’s career growth platform is a living, breathing tool to record and gather evidence for your professional achievements. This helps you understand your strengths and areas of improvement, instil a sense of accountability in your work, and have better career conversations.

Lesson 3: The importance of collaboration 

Charles Baggage and Ada Lovelace’s partnership attests to how a combination of diverse experiences and perspectives can produce outcomes greater than what the individual alone can accomplish. They were great collaborators with complementary skill sets. He was a brilliant inventor, engineer, and undisputed creator of the Analytical Engine. Ada Lovelace’s skills were in profoundly understanding and elucidating Babbage’s work and seeing the machine's potential to apply to broader computing applications far beyond what Babbage himself did. 

Suw Charman-Anderson, the founder of Ada Lovelace Day, writes rather charmingly about the exchange of ideas between Babbage and Lovelace: 

“Babbage and Lovelace collaborated closely, discussing and refining their ideas, Babbage working on some parts, Lovelace on others. Babbage was living in London and Lovelace an hour away in Ockham Park, and letters flew back and forth between them in a great flurry. The post in Victorian England was delivered several times a day and, if they couldn’t wait, they both had personal messengers that they could rely on.”

Letter on double-page spread with cursive writing - Ada Lovelace's letter to Charles Babbage in 1843.
Letter from Ada Lovelace to Charles Babbage in 1843, where she first set out the principle of the computer program in writing.

The vital importance of collaboration should come as no surprise to those in software teams. Teams that have a strong culture of collaboration see more knowledge-sharing, innovation and growth. Just like the partnership between Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, software engineers who develop their collaboration and community skills can benefit from different perspectives, opinions and ideas to take their work to even greater heights.

Colourful bubbles with software engineering skills - coding, delivery, mentoring, devops, security, testing, agile, coaching, platform, craft, communicate
A holistic set of skills and strengths are vital to the success of software engineering teams. Kaleida’s skills assessment framework values both technical skills as well as core skills that foster effective teamwork, more creative problem-solving and innovative ideas.

Lesson 4: The importance of mentorship and allies

When viewing Ada Lovelace’s life, we can see that her brilliance was nurtured and shaped by her mentors and allies. Her mother arranged for her to be tutored by many pre-eminent mathematicians and scientists of her day, including William Frend, Augustus De Morgan (a great contributor to Boolean Logic) and Mary Somerville, the Scottish scientist and astronomer.

Ada Lovelace was fortunate to have staunch advocates in her life, including her husband William King, and Babbage himself. As mentioned before, William convinced Lovelace to sign her translation on Manabrea’s paper. He reportedly convinced her to stay the course in mathematics when she contemplated switching her focus to literature or music instead (Wolfram, 2015). 

Charles Babbage famously refers to Ada Lovelace as his “enchantress of number”, and his clear respect and support of her was an endorsement of her intellectual prowess in the scientific community. Babbage wrote about her to the influential scientist Michael Faraday:

“... [the] Enchantress who has thrown her magical spell around the most abstract of Sciences and has grasped it with a force which few masculine intellects (in our own country at least) could have exerted over it.“

While we may not always have access to world-famous technologists, we can all seek mentors and role models around us to gain insights, knowledge, guidance and networking opportunities that can’t be found in a textbook or online course. Surrounding ourselves with allies and advocates can give us the encouragement to pursue our career goals and aspirations even in the face of adversity.

Her legacy lives on

Today, let’s celebrate Ada Lovelace’s legacy as a pioneer of computer science whose work still shapes the world we live in. Lovelace’s story is more than just a note in history; it provides contemporary technology professionals with insights that apply even today. This October, taking a leaf out of Lovelace’s book might just be the inspiration we need to take our careers to the next level.

Further reading 

We recommend the following two articles for further reading. They add colour and paint a rich picture of who Ada Lovelace was.

On Ada Lovelace Day, Kaleida recognises the contributions and achievements of women and underrepresented groups in STEM. We believe that technology needs to be built by all and for all. The software teams who build the technology that runs our world should be as diverse as the people in it.