There is a distinct lack of women in the CIO role or top positions in IT overall. But let’s not end the year on too much of a negative; things are a great deal better than they were in the time of Ada Lovelace. That is not to avoid the issue, a great deal needs to be done to promote diversity in the serried ranks of the CIO community.

Ironically, the earliest period of the technology world owes a debt of thanks to women and Ada Lovelace in particular. In A Female Genius, How Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter started the computer age author James Essinger adds a new chapter to his history charting the start up era of the computer. Essinger’s previous tome, Jacquard’s Web is a wonderful read, full of rich detail, yet pacy and will entice anyone to read the popular history of computing, without having to be a computer geek. 

When A female genius landed on my desk I was excited to pick up where I had left off with Jacquard’s Web, but some of the detail and insight was missing.  Upon reflection I doubt this is the fault of the author and more an indication of the period of time the historian is writing about, a time when women’s role was to be home makers and wives, not independent thinkers shaping the journey of computing. So I imagine there is less source material available to a historian.

Lovelace was a close friend and collaborator of Charles Babbage, as well as being daughter to poet Lord Byron and friend to Charles Dickens. Babbage comes across as a great thinker, but perhaps lacking in direction due to his wealthy up-bringing, Lovelace however is a women ahead of her times and relishes the use of her considerable intellect to push forward Babbage’s computing ideas. Lovelace had the makings of a great CIO and as Essinger quotes her saying:

“There is plenty of time, and if you lay a good and solid foundation, the superstructure will be easy, and delightful to build”.

Essinger isn’t looking to down play Babbage’s role in the early years of IT. The author rightfully asks the question all the way through the title, if Babbage had been more accepting of the contributions that Lovelace could have made would he have advanced further? Babbage saw how Jacquard’s punch card weaving loom invention could be used in information management. But Babbage’s brilliance in thought was failed by his poor communication skills and an inability to deliver, perhaps setting in train years of accusations of non-alignment between organisations and IT.  If Lovelace and women had been given greater opportunities perhaps this issue would have been eradicated with the corset.

Essinger’s titles are always well research and he brings to life the history of the inventions that make up every day.  Despite being weaker than his previous book, this is still an engaging read into the struggles women have and do face in IT.