The History of Computer Programming Although computer programming may seem like a recent invention, the idea behind writing instructions for a machine to follow has been around for over a century. One of the earliest designs for a programmable machine (computer) came from a man named Charles Babbage way back in 1834. That was the year Charles Babbage proposed building a mechanical, steam- driven machine dubbed the Analytical Engine. Unlike the simple calculating machines of that time that could perform only a single function, Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine could perform a variety of tasks, depending on the instructions fed into the machine through a series of punched cards. By changing the number and type of instructions (punch cards) fed into the machine, anyone could reprogram the Analytical Engine to make it solve different problems.
The idea of a programmable machine caught the attention of Ada Lovelace, a mathematician and daughter of the poet Lord Byron. Sensing the potential of a programmable machine, Ada wrote a program to make the Analytical Engine calculate and print a sequence of numbers known as Bernoulli numbers. Because of her work with the Analytical Engine, Ada Lovelace is considered to be the world’s first computer programmer.
In her honor, the Department of Defense named the Ada programming language after Ada Lovelace. Although Charles Babbage never finished building his Analytical Engine, his steam-driven mechanical machine bears a striking similarity to today’s computers.