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Broad Band

The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet

By Claire L. Evans
15-minute read
Audio available
Broad Band  by Claire L. Evans

Broad Band (2018) tells the story of the women who played significant roles in the evolution of computers and the internet. It examines how these women became trailblazers in fields of work that were initially considered boring – but later proved to be of great importance.

  • Young women interested in pursuing a career in computer science
  • Computer scientists and engineers
  • People interested in how women have shaped our world

Claire L. Evans is a journalist and the lead singer of the Grammy-nominated pop duo YACHT. She is the founding editor of Terraform, Vice’s science-fiction vertical, and contributes to a variety of publications including Vice, the Guardian, Wired, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and Quartz. Evans is also a graduate advisor at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California.

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Broad Band

The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet

By Claire L. Evans
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Broad Band  by Claire L. Evans
Synopsis

Broad Band (2018) tells the story of the women who played significant roles in the evolution of computers and the internet. It examines how these women became trailblazers in fields of work that were initially considered boring – but later proved to be of great importance.

Key idea 1 of 9

Ada Lovelace was the world’s first computer programmer.

When the famous English poet Lord Byron died almost 200 years ago, he didn’t just bequeath to the world his beautiful verses – he also left behind a daughter, Ada Lovelace.

Ada was the only child of Byron’s short-lived marriage to a mathematics-loving aristocrat, Anna Isabella Milbanke. Milbanke wanted to make sure her daughter didn’t develop any of her father’s wildness, so she arranged a comprehensive math education for Ada from the time she was four years old. Today we remember Ada not for her famous parentage, but as a trailblazer in a field that touches nearly every aspect of our modern lives: computer programming.

The key message here is: Ada Lovelace was the world’s first computer programmer.

From a very young age, Ada excelled in her studies. She soon outgrew her tutors but continued to educate herself through books and correspondence, even developing friendships with leading scientists of the day. When she was 17, Lovelace met Charles Babbage, the creator of the difference engine – an early calculator for complicated mathematical problems. Ada was fascinated by the machine and eager to learn from Babbage.

As was the norm for aristocrats of her day, Ada married young. Her husband, William King, would go on to become the first Earl of Lovelace. Marriage, children, and the social responsibilities of a countess were time-consuming. Nevertheless, Lovelace’s interest in Babbage’s work persisted. 

Babbage soon devised another machine, the analytical engine, which performed general-purpose computation. When Lovelace came across a paper about the analytical engine in a Swiss journal, she decided to translate it into English. As she did so, she corrected a number of errors made by the author. Babbage was so impressed that he encouraged her to publish her notes along with the translation.

By the time Lovelace’s work was completed and published, the paper had become three times longer – and far more sophisticated – than the original. It fully described Babbage’s vision for the analytical engine, as well as how it might be used in mathematics. Ada’s notes also showcased her artistic ability to present a technical analysis in an engaging and exciting style.

Working on her paper, Ada took inspiration from the Lovelace family motto: “Labor is its own reward.” When she died in 1852, the motto was also engraved on her coffin. It was a sadly fitting epitaph, as Ada’s achievements were little acknowledged during her lifetime. It would take almost a century before she was properly recognized.

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