Who was the first computer programmer?
Like… the very first one. Ever.
Seems like it would be a simple question to answer, doesn't it? Alas, the history of computing is far more complex than it would seem at first blush.
Was it Ada Lovelace?
[Ada graphic + shot of note G]
The first answer that is typically given is that of Ada Lovelace.
Lovelace wrote, way back in 1843, a hypothetical algorithm for the Analytical Engine… earning her (in the eyes of many) the title of “First Computer Programmer.”
There are a few problems with this, however.
First, the computer in question (the Analytical Engine) didn't actually exist. Which means that Ada Lovelace never run said computer program. It was purely hypothetical.
The second issue that arises with dubbing Ada Lovelace as the first computer programmer… is that the computer in question (the Analytical Engine) was designed by Charles Babbage. During the course of the design, Babbage wrote programs that it could run. Which pre-dates Lovelace's work.
In other words: While Lovelace did something very cool and nerdy – and did so way back in the 1800's – she was not the first computer programmer. Neither did the computer exist, nor was the program she created ever run. And, even if we disregard that, the inventor of the machine itself (Babbage) would earn the title first.
Was it Charles Babbage?
[Babbage graphic + shot of computer]
Ok, then! Charles Babbage was the first computer programmer!
While Babbage, undeniably, created the designs for the worlds first digital computer that we would describe as “Turing Complete” – and he certainly designed algorithms to run on it – the computer was never actually built (at least not in his lifetime).
Which calls up the old question: If a tree falls in the forest, but nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
If a person writes a computer program… but that computer program is never run (and the computer itself does not exist)… is taht person actually a computer programmer?
I mean. Babbage never, actually, programmed a computer.
So, while the contributions of Babbage to computing history are immense and, quite frankly, amazing… I'd have to say that no. Babbage was not the first computer programmer.
Was it Joseph Jacquard?
[Jacquard graphic + shot of loom]
Was it Konrad Zuse?
Was it the ENIAC Programmers?
Kay McNulty, Betty Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Meltzer, Fran Bilas, and Ruth Lichterman
Was it the ENIAC Design Team?
So who was it?!
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