Confessions of a Female Computer Geek
Counting, Patterns, Puzzles, and Programming
COUNTING — Early 1950’s
I was born during the first generation of computers. Not that I ever saw one of them in action at the time, but I found it to be an exciting part of my story. My first experience with a computer — a modern counting device — was in the form of my toy abacus. It looked similar to the picture above. Mine was very colorful. Both ends were red triangles connected by three thin, metal rods that had ten beads on each. Each set of beads was a different primary color — red, yellow and blue. I’m not sure why I was so attracted to that toy. It wasn’t as if I used it to count. I would play with the beads, moving them back and forth. I slept with the abacus every night, keeping it at the foot of the bed.
PATTERNS — Later 1950’s
Maybe it was my compulsive ways that got me into counting devices. I would count how many steps I took in each section of a New York sidewalk. I got so proficient that I didn’t even have to be careful about how I walked and could still take the same number of steps in each section. As I got older, I counted other objects, lumping everything into groups of five or multiples of five. I could put my hand into a bag of M&M’s and almost always come up with just five without counting them in my hand. It’s curious why the number five, but I guess there are many things in this world that hinge on five — fingers/toes on a hand/foot, money (except for the penny, everything else is a multiple of five), minutes on a clock, and more.
PUZZLES — 1960’s
Then came my fascination with less distinct patterns — puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles were good, but I liked number and word puzzles more. Once you found the pattern, the answer would become obvious. Crossword puzzles and Scrabble were fun, but your vocabulary had to be good, too. Puzzles in the newspapers were perfect. For example, cryptograms were wonderful because you only had to know a few rules about the English language:
- ‘E’ is the most common letter
- The most common word is ‘the’
- Two words are a single letter (‘I’ and ‘a’)
- Only certain letters can follow itself once (‘ll’ as in yellow, ‘mm’ as in hammer, ‘tt, as in better, ‘e’ as in wheel, ‘o’ as in book, etc.)
My favorite puzzles were magazines filled with Logic Puzzles. An example of one is below. The problem is to figure out how to match each person (First Name) with their Anniversary, the type of music that person downloaded and what detergent they use.
PROGRAMMING — Late 1960’s
My favorite subjects were Math and Science until the school offered a Computer Science class during my senior year. The teacher taught us the internal design and workings of computers. He also taught us how to program them. I caught his excitement and became hooked after completing The First Program I Ever Wrote.
By the end of the class, my answer to “What are you going to be your major in?” changed from Math to Computer Science. Getting a degree in Math or Science at the time I entered college meant being a teacher. The newspaper classified ads for women in all the New York newspapers (and there were plenty) were filled with jobs for secretaries and teachers. By the time I graduated college, I had added jobs such as a data entry clerk, computer operator, and programmer to the list. My love and talents for counting, patterns, and puzzles were no longer for recreational fun and games but a career of fun and games as a computer programmer.
My Confessions as a Female Computer Geek — 2017
I confess that counting, patterns, and puzzles still fill my head, but since I was laid off two years ago at retirement age, I miss the programming. To satisfy my need and fill the void, I started learning new skills in digital technology including:
- Digital Marketing
- HTML 5/CSS 3
- Creating and maintaining websites
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Google Analytics
- Keyword Research and Analysis
- Advertising and Social Media
A few months ago, I was hired as a cashier/busser at a local restaurant, Filippos, by the owner, Philip. It’s fun, I am physically active, and I get to socialize with staff and customers. Philip also owns another restaurant, Barlago. When the tablet he used for the Open table reservation App crashed, he hired me to repair/restore the system. To spend more time managing Barlogo, Philip sold Filippo’s to a couple of employees, Geo and Cynthia. When they found out I was a retired techie, they asked me to help them out with the following:
- Update the old website until Yelp links to the new website
- Optimize/index their new website
- Install and configure a new POS system
When business is slow, I think about what brings people into the restaurant and when. To satisfy my curiosity, I started collecting data including the following variables
- Day of the week
- Start/end times of peak influx of customers
- Types of customers (couples, seniors, families with kids, etc.)
- Total amount spent (for this I use my tips which are relatively proportional to the bill)
- Comments/feedback from customers
I’m now happily studying Machine Learning and will be using what I learn to (hopefully) predict what factors play a role in when people eat at Filippo’s and possibly apply the same process to other restaurants.
One last confession. I have been reading about the disappearance of women in Computer Science, wondering when women stopped coding and why I hadn’t noticed. I plan to explore the topic by writing a series of articles based on my 45-year career as a computer programmer, reflecting on what was happening in the tech world and what I was doing.