Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

An Introduction — One Woman’s Journey through the World of Technology

I have been in tech for a long time. I hate to admit it, but I remember the first MacIntosh computer that only ran on a little floppy disk. I remember the pure joy of seeing the little smiley face my Mac gave to me when it was happy! It was adorable and I loved it. I was in my 20s, divorced, had a baby girl and wanted to write stories. Little did I know that this passion to write would lead to a journey into technology unlike anything I could have imagined.

Art display in Paris, France 2017

There and back again

Through the years I have held a number of positions that, when put together, led me to discover and hone a variety of skill sets. The journey has been interesting to say the least.

It began in 1989. I was a single mom when I went to work as a marketing assistant for OCLC, a major online library software company that catered to public and university libraries. I worked for the west coast marketing director and ultimately this job would serve as an introduction to the world of marketing and would provide me with an understanding of how marketing and sales work hand-in-hand.

More importantly, it would act as the catalyst that would change my life.

Discovering desktop PCs and the Internet

After three years working in the marketing department for OCLC west, I was promoted to office manager. Shortly before I took the position, our dumb terminals (hardwired via a local area network, then connected to our corporate headquarters) were replaced with fancy new “desktop” computers.

I remember these cool machines sat at our desks and came with monitors that displayed color! They also came installed with new software that would take us out of the green screen world of mainframe dumb boxes, into a world called Windows. I remember being fascinated by the boxes that our “computer guy” was installing. I asked him where he learned how to do what he did. His answer would set the course for my next career.

In the meantime, I continued as office manager. I was now re-married and was pregnant with my 2nd child. The following year, division managers from across the country were flown to corporate headquarters to attend a training class on a little thing called the “Internet.” It was the beginning of the technology that would change the world and certainly changed the way WE did business. Ultimately this digital connection to our home office put an end to mundane tasks like sending re-usable brown inter-office envelopes via UPS from corporate to the various offices and back again. And it was the end of “sneaker-net” whereby you would share information on a floppy disk with your colleagues by walking the disks back and forth from one person to the next. Ya, that was a real thing…

From office manager to PC technician

The introduction class to the Internet did one thing for me; it solidified my curiosity about technology. I wanted to know what was inside the box on my desk. How did it do what it did? I remembered what our computer guy had told me. I was determined to learn more.

To do so, I signed up for a PC technician class and my love of all things “digital” was born. I loved seeing the inside of the boxes, I loved tearing them apart and then setting up the equipment and watching it spin up. We learned about DOS and how to replace hard drives and motherboards. It was shortly after this 6 month night course, that I left my boring office manager job and went to work selling PCs to businesses. But sales was not my passion, in fact I hated the pressure and quotas, but I got the job because I was referred to them by my PC technician teachers. As fate would have it, I would eventually go to work for those men and my career as a PC technician was born.

I spent nearly seven years, on and off, working for the now-defunct, three-man shop called Primary Computer Services, selling and installing computers and connecting them to the Internet in K-12 schools throughout Southern California.

Strangely enough, school boards had decided that the Internet should be installed in school libraries. It seemed only rational since, besides school offices, the library was the only place on campus that had access to a network. They also generally had multiple workstations set up on small internal networks so students could browse the local database to find the books they wanted.

It was a fortuitous pairing, considering my last position working with librarians. It would eventually provide me with the opportunity to participate in major trade shows geared towards librarians. I would also be tapped to provide seminars to groups of librarians on what to look for when networking your library. The sense of synchronicity between the two jobs was hard to overlook and it would provide me with the skills I would need to become successful in Tech PR, but that was still a long way down the road.

Advertising, photography and graphic design

After nearly 10 years in tech and libraries however, I found I wanted a change. As we already know, I didn’t enjoy sales, but because I was good at it and could speak intelligently to the librarians, the job became 100% sales and marketing.

I wanted something more exciting, something different. I wanted to learn about the software that ran the hardware that was my passion for so many years. So when a job opened up as an advertising manager for a major card casino in a not-so-great part of Los Angeles, how could I resist?

While this next phase of my career required a ridiculous commute (two hours to drive 35 miles, one way in Los Angeles traffic) it also opened up the opportunity to learn an entire new set of software skills including Photoshop, InDesign and my first gig as a manager over a small team. It also allowed me to incorporate into my work another passion — photography.

After five years of the insane commute and the crazy culture of a casino, however, I realized how much of my now three children’s lives I was missing. So, I gave it up for something closer to home.

So how does a PC technician and advertising director wind up as a PR professional you ask?

I can wax philosophical here and say that life provides you with opportunities; it’s up to you to choose to go after those opportunities, or simply stay in your comfort zone.

As you can probably tell, I’m not much of a “status quo” kind of girl.

After advertising, and a brief stint as a movie producer, don’t ask, I went to work for a friend who owned a local PR firm, five minutes from my home. Oddly enough, VMA Communications’ client base included K-12 school districts. Ah, there’s that symmetry again.

And there I was, full circle, working once again with school administrators and board members, but instead of selling them computers, I was helping them communicate with their constituents and stakeholders.

This new world, one of communications, included a lot of writing, from community newsletters to press releases to proclamations. It wasn’t the fictional stories I had in mind when I was 20, but hey, it was important.

I was also put in charge of photographing school events and promoting student and school accomplishments to the community, leading eventually to the promotion of a video that went viral on YouTube and got the attention of President Obama. You could say after that success, I was hooked.

Bringing it all together in a new place

Three years later, I made the move to Scotts Valley, California. After a short time, I discovered right down the street from my house, a full-service media relations and PR agency that focused on high-tech enterprises and startups. I made Nadel Phelan my home for the next six years, working my way up from PR associate to PR director.

It was a wild ride and provided me with experiences I will never forget, not to mention the opportunity to learn about the new technologies that had been cooking while I was away. And let me tell you, “they” had cooked up a whole host of interesting stuff, including cybersecurity, mobile apps, software-as-a-service, infrastructure, social media(!) and the ever popular cloud. I was in technology heaven, experiencing the magic and wonder of a world that changed by the minute, working with startups and enterprises that the general public would probably never see.

Yes, the Internet changed everything and it was exciting and totally fulfilling.

Full circle

So now I have landed in Eugene and I am enjoying running my own PR gig with a mission to help small businesses and startups understand and implement PR and social media strategies and insight. And you know what? I’m lovin’ every minute of it!