My 30 Year Career in Technology
Thirty years ago — well, forty actually if you count high school — I started on my career in technology. While I don’t consider my story to be inspirational, I do provide it here simply as an example — one that you might like to consider as you move forward in your own career.
As a high school student in the late seventies, I ate up math courses. If there was a stigma to being a girl in math, I was oblivious to it and didn’t notice. I just wanted to figure out that math problem. If you can, be oblivious.
As a college student in the early eighties, I continued to pursue my love of math. This time, there was definitely no stigma to deal with since I attended a women’s college, something I recommend since there are no gender biases to let yourself become accustomed to and expectations of you are high. I ended up taking every computer science course the college offered — all three of them.
Math and computers was just the way my mind worked.
It’s Okay To Use Your Contacts
When I graduated in the mid-eighties, I got my first (and last) job with an R&D tech company. Because my step-father was friends with one of the VPs, I was fortunate enough to get an interview there. Contacts are a good thing, regardless of your qualifications, and you never know where they will lead.
During the interview, I remember being asked what operating systems I had worked on while in college. I hadn’t a clue. My first project at work was to modify a UNIX kernel. I had no idea what they meant by kernel. I wondered, “As in popped or Kentucky Fried?”
You Can Learn Anything
But, I figured it out, and I got pretty good at it. Others must have thought so too, because I got good raises and good reviews. I gained expertise in the field of cyber security (back then we called it COMPUSEC). If you are smart, you can learn anything. Except for Lisp.
Go For The Job…
In the late eighties, my immediate boss left. I wondered who was going to replace him. I didn’t think of applying myself because I didn’t feel I had enough experience. The guy who got the job had less expererience than me, both in terms of time with the company and time on the project. Go for the job, even if you don’t feel qualified, because that won’t stop other people.
Do What Is Right For You
At the tail end of the eighties, I met a guy, got married, and had a baby. Even though my salary was higher than my husband’s, I decided to reduce my hours and go part-time after I had the baby. That was what was right for me. Do what is right for you, whatever that happens to be. The hard part will be figuring out what that is.
In the nineties, I had two more children, and I continued to work part-time. My company was highly supportive of work-life balance, and they continued to promote me. If you want a work-life balance, find a company that supports one. Rather than writing computer programs, they started having me lead projects. I was setting project goals, forming action plans to achieve those goals, and establishing deadlines. I also became a people manager where I helped employees with their own career paths.
Be Ready To Take A Risk
The only problem with cyber security is that I found it boring. And that people management role? While I was good at it, I didn’t like it since success wasn’t as straight-forward as solving a math problem or writing a computer program. However, as we passed the millennium mark, I continued to stick with what I was doing because I was too stubborn, loyal, busy, and/or afraid to move on. My career stalled a bit. Stick with something because you like it. Otherwise, take a risk.
Finally, at the beginning of 2014, I took a risk. I left. Without really knowing what I was going to do next. Now, instead of math, I’m focusing on the other love of my life — writing. I also provide free tech support to a local network of six Macs, eight iPhones, five iPads, and an Apple TV.
Enjoy The Life You’re Living
There are times when I wrestle with a sense of failure, and I wonder what I could have accomplished if I had taken some of my own recommendations. My college produced two Secretaries of State and our next President (hopefully). I am a fan of Sheryl Sandberg and Beyonce. What have I done?
But recently I came across this quote by Jonathan Safran Foer in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close:
Sometimes I can feel my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.
That quote hit home with me, and I realized a lot of us probably feel this way to at least some extent. I also realized this is not a good way to feel.
I’m still working on developing advice for myself for this stage of my career. This is what I’ve come up with so far:
Don’t worry too much about the lives you are not living, and enjoy the one you are living.
Right now, I’m looking forward to what the next decade brings.
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