There’s a reason why Ada Lovelace, famous for her work on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine and sometimes credited with the first description of a machine algorithm, is the Ur-Girl Geek. It is because she was conscious of the power of her intellect, and not afraid to wield it.
In his recent The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood, James Gleick quotes from her writings: to me, it is her self-awareness, her self-confidence, that stand out today:
That brain of mine is something more than merely mortal; as time will show; (if only my breathing & some other et-ceteras do not make too rapid a progress towards instead of from mortality.
Before ten years are over, the Devil’s in it if I haven’t sucked out some of the life-blood from the mysteries of this universe, in a way that no purely mortal lips or brains could do.
No one knows what almost awful energy and power lies yet undeveloped in that wiry little system of mine. I say awful, because you may imagine what it might be under different circumstances…
[To Charles Babbage:] I do not think you possess half my forethought, & power of foreseeing all possible contingencies (probable & improbable, just alike). — I do not believe that my father was (or ever could have been) such a Poet as I shall be an Analyst; (& Metaphysician); for with me the two go together indissolubly.
She died in 1852, at the age of 36, “a protracted, torturous death from cancer of the womb, her agony barely lessened by laudanum and cannabis.”
We celebrate the 2011 Ada Lovelace Day on October 7.