Ada Lovelace Day

Ada Lovelace

It is Ada Lovelace Day – and this is not something that you would normally expect a 46 year old, 200+lb bald bloke to write (or even care) about. But I am writing and I do care, because, you see, I have a secret.

You need to look back to schooling in England in 1978 to understand this secret. Bear in mind that Glyn was an all boy’s grammar school when I went there. Looming Victorian red brick buildings, cross-country in the mud and sleet, compulsory rugby, physical punishment was allowed (anyone else suffer ‘tweeks’, ruler slaps and ‘clips round the ear’?), uniforms, prefects and all the latent tensions of a British male institution.

Can you guess the secret?

Here are a few other clues: computers had only just been invented. I remember playing Zork on a PDP 11 with a Winchester drive, which in turn was a big step up from submitting batch card jobs to the Cyber Series mainframes at Imperial College. A few of us were breadboarding 8-bit devices to create programmable burglar alarms for the science lab cupboards.

And into this stepped Janet Riddlestone. That is the secret: I was turned onto computing and the power of computers to revolutionise human existance by a woman. Part time maths teacher and volunteer who created and ran the computer club at lunch breaks and after school. Without her inspiration, I would have probably remained in biology and gone to grow trees in the tropics. The influence of one woman, who had crossed into teaching boys, at an all boys school, in a subject that is thought of as mainly male changed everything for me.

I’d like to think that even if I can’t remember how to spell her name, she carried a little bit of Ada Lovelace in her.