Why I’m going to the Ada Lovelace Festival (and you should, too!)

Ada Lovelace was a badass. She wrote one of the first computer programs when almost no women worked in tech — in 1842. On Oct 24–25, the Ada Lovelace Festival will celebrate her contributions and those of women leading tech today with talks, workshops and social activities.

This year’s event focuses on the topic of ownership. Speakers from leading enterprises — such as Volkswagen, Accenture and SAP — will engage with artists, activists and government officials to discuss the future of the internet, who’s creating that future and what it could mean for daily life. Who gets to own the future of the digital world, and how can more people be involved?

I’m thrilled to attend this year. The daily concerns of building digital tools and experiences often eclipse investigations into their larger contexts. I’m also excited to discuss Ada Lovelace, build relationships through the festival’s community and learn from experts about their work.

Ada Lovelace

It bears repeating: Ada Lovelace was a badass. The English mathematician realized that Charles Babbage’s proposed Analytical Engine, a mechanical computer, had applications beyond pure calculations. While working with Babbage, she wrote an algorithm for calculating Bernoulli numbers, a complex sequence of rational numbers often used in computation and arithmetic. She published it in Sketch of the Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage, Esq. You’ll find it under Note G.

There’s an active debate over how much support she received from Babbage on this work, but even scholars skeptical about her role in the algorithm agree that "Ada was the only person to see the potential of the analytical engine as a machine capable of expressing entities other than quantities."

I could continue discussing her achievements and the challenges she overcame in her short 36 years — but that’s why I’m going to the festival. You can read more about her in the Bodleian Library archive (University of Oxford) and recent publications: Ada's Algorithm by James Essinger; and Ada Lovelace: The Making of a Computer Scientist by Christopher Hollings, Ursula Martinand and Adrian Rice.

Welcoming community

Anyone who celebrates Lovelace’s legacy is welcome to participate in the event — people of all gender expressions, sexualities, nationalities, races and ages. The organizers foster an atmosphere where everyone stands on equal ground, from students to senior professionals. As a woman and technical writer new to the field, I know that I’ll be included and heard. I found Facebook’s head of diversity’s perspective on the 2017 festival highly reassuring.

Learning from expert

Claire Evans, lead singer of YACHT, writer and activist, is presenting "Broad Band: The Untold Story of Women Who Made the Internet." I’ve devotedly followed her through Deep Lab, a group of women engaged with an ongoing critical assessment of contemporary digital culture. (Will I do my best to act like a normal human being when I meet her? Yes. Is there a high likelihood that I’ll ask her for an autograph and inundate her with a million questions? Also yes.)

Other speakers will present on a huge range of topics: data protection, participatory information and artificial intelligence, the advantages of diversity in engineering and unconventional approaches to user experience. Panels will also teach specific programming languages and demonstrate how to use them to push the boundaries of web applications. Marvel at the full agenda.

New perspectives

I’m looking forward to the festival and excited to return to my own technical writing after. Listening to people talk about their experiences from last year makes it clear that bringing a diverse range of talents into one space instigates surprising conversations and fresh perspectives.

Join me at the Ada Lovelace Festival in Berlin, Oct 24–25 by ordering your tickets here. If you can’t make it in person, follow #adafestival and watch the livestream.

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