Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

The Game of Life Toward Tech

I lost my mother when I was five, and some of the few memories I retained of her were her at work, clacking at a keyboard with me sitting at her feet and drawing on dot matrix printer paper with her oh so pretty colored pens. She would sit me on her lap and walk through various MS-DOS commands. These memories of her are particularly meaningful now as I enter the world of tech. In the mid 80’s, I watched my father purchase countless pieces of hardware and build our first household computer. Trying to figure out what connected to what, I bombarded him with questions.

Looking back, I think those late evenings were his wind down time after a long day of work and coming home as a single father to two young girls. It was made clear to me that he “was busy” and I resorted to simply burying my head in another book and peeking at the parts when he wasn’t around. Once the giant bulk of machinery was working, and since I was barred from playing with game consoles, he set me up with a plethora of educational games and skill development apps; Mavis Beacon and Carmen Sandiego are two I remember fondly.

Fast forward to 1991: Although the death of Dr. Seuss was poignant, what I remember most from that year was the installation of my school’s very first computer lab. Macintosh monitors called to us as my classmates and I checked out the construction and setup. I had access to a computer lab at school from the age of 8. Access to computers from a young age is a privilege I always appreciated.

In the mid-90’s you would have found me, a pre-teen, chatting late into the night on ICQ with random strangers and perusing list serves until there was a knock at my door and stern words telling me to go to sleep. My stepmother asked what I was doing up so late and I proudly stated that I had been “making new friends online”. This, in my young opinion, was a major accomplishment given my shy nature. Fearful for my safety, and rather than asking me clarifying questions, my parents set a password on the computer. Of course, I used the school computer lab to research how to get past that tiny barrier!

Spending time on the computer was something I sought but was often rebuffed for because I “should be going outside” — similar concerns we hear today from parents. I found one of the first releases of Winamp in 1997 and proceeded to collect up all of my father’s CDs into a crate and take them to my room. He came home to his precious music collection sprawled across the floor. It did not bode well for me, and I’m pretty sure I lost access to them for a long time thereafter. And since the password was not enough to keep me away, the internet cable was taken. Thankfully, I had made friends with a Computer Science instructor at the college where my father worked. Convincing him that my (imaginary) dog had chewed through the cord and I was scared it would be found out and get into trouble, was a surprisingly easy way to gain access again, while entrusting someone to keep my secret. That cable lived in my underwear drawer for months.

This cat and mouse game couldn’t continue forever.

Reading about GUIs, playing in the command line and fussing with Windows via DOS, I stumbled upon some corner in which I was able to download different shells and desktop environments. Hog heaven! I must have played with half a dozen, learning their structures and designs. Except somewhere along the way, I stumbled and couldn’t pull myself out of an environment change. I hoped to get some guidance from my high school’s computer lab manager, but my father came upon the mess before I could get it fixed. It was at this point that my late night internet escapades came crashing down around me, and the PC was moved into my father’s room.

Having just moved to yet another town, and yet another school, I found it easier to hide in the computer lab than face the work of making new friends. MySpace didn’t exist and Friendster was still being developed. I was fortunate enough to come across Tripod and GeoCities (if you are not familiar with that history and the incredible work put in to preserve it, do check it out as a foray into www history.) I spent time fussing with creating websites through both of these, and writing classically teenage angst- infused posts on Blogger. A teacher called my stepmother, concerned I was being antisocial and I was told my lunch time could no longer be spent at the lab. So I snuck off campus to the nearby library, but the technology wasn’t up to par, so I most often ended up buried in books again.

I did manage to take a level two C++ class my first quarter of college. When I pointed out that I was a freshman and asked how my advisor could put me in this advanced class, the instructor shrugged and said he wouldn’t drop me and I had better sink or swim. “Well”, I thought, “he’s got confidence in me, I’m sure I can make this happen”. Needless to say, I barely stayed afloat, white knuckling the entire experience. I was the only female and the guys all refused to program with me. One offered to tutor me for an exchange of “fun.”

I didn’t realize at the time that this was likely the first time I dodged quid pro quo sexual harassment. I sat to the side of the class, the instructor being my stand-in partner, which amounted to him looking over my shoulder (and down my shirt) only to say, “No wonder it’s not working. You’ll figure it out”. His hand traced up my arm one day, prompting me to leave midway through class. Despite my protestations, he told my advisor that I hadn’t been going and should forsake a poor grade by simply withdrawing from the class. It was enough for me to step out of my engineering track and request a new advisor and major. Yes, sexual harassment derailed me before I turned twenty.

My first year of college was…a mess.

I came out to my parents with less than stellar results, stepped away from my ROTC scholarship after a full lecture on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, moved more than a 1,000 miles away from everything I knew, and became increasingly aware of how sheltered and privileged my upbringing had been. I’ll spare the rambling, though absolutely incredible, ride I’ve been on since. In short, there has been WordPress development, social media analytics, website SEO and so many satellite technology offerings I’ve worked on throughout that time. Being in the Bay Area and active online, I’ve been involved in beta testing and initial software rollouts. I have circled the tech industry since moving to the SF Bay Area more than a decade ago. But only after finishing my Master of Science in Marketing and having unwavering support within the home I have created with chosen loved ones, did I take the leap into software engineering.

Just to be sure this was still an interest for me at heart, I took a month long Javascript course at App Academy and I LOVED IT! After some planning within my household, I immediately began intense research on the multitude of boot camps for newbie coders. I gained acceptance from those to which I had applied, and opted to move forward with Hackbright Academy for several reasons:

  • Their educational formatting is research driven
  • They appreciate quality over quantity
  • Their career services department begins work with students starting week one
  • I also knew I would appreciate creating this experience and gaining shared confidence with a group of women.

I graduated just a month ago with a beloved project and many materials to practice with and continue learning. I have spent the last few weeks in the wilds of the San Francisco Bay Area tech community. Attending Dreamforce, volunteering with Change Catalyst as well as their Tech Inclusion Conference, and a multitude of smaller events / hackathons / classes have peppered my calendar. Some days I get a little frazzled about what to focus on: I’m applying for roles that cross the boundaries between development, marketing, analytics and community development. And though imposter syndrome has attempted to creep through my door, it’s helpful to continue my study of Python, Javascript, analytics, databases, data visualization and more. No matter how many times my server crashes, git gets testy, or I’ve got to reseed my database, I still smile ear to ear, knowing that even if I haven’t made it, I AM making it.

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