Not Just a Man’s World (aka: My Awesome Tech Career Journey)

My job is awesome.

Every day, I realized how blessed I am to be able to say that. To be able to wake up each day and look forward to the work I get to do. To be able to use my unique skills and talents to impact the lives of other people in a positive way. Yes! *Pumps fist*

It feels good.

I never used to imagine that one day, I would not only have a successful career, but that I would find so much fulfillment from my work. In my early years, work was just something I did to pay the bills, and my ambitions were small. I used to be a teacher of young children — a low-paying career that led to a seamless transition into full-time mothering. Mothering as a SAHM was, of course, fulfilling in its own way. It was also the thing to do among young conservative Christian women in my circle, at the time. To focus on raising your kids, cooking meals, cleaning your home, and supporting your husband, the breadwinner, was considered the most honorable, ideal role for a woman. Even a woman with a 4-yr. college degree.

Gag.

Quick digression: I’m no longer sure how I ever bought into that philosophy. I now believe firmly that the responsibilities of child rearing, caring for the home, and financially supporting the household belong to both partners, rather than to one or the other based on gender. But since I’m no longer married, none of that applies anymore anyway.

Anyway, at some point, when my youngest kid was in grade school, I went back to work as a teacher in the local school district. I was good at it, but it was tiring, brainless work. Not to mention it paid very little. So when I was laid off due to state budget cuts, I decided that it was time. I would return to college to pursue a career in the one field that made me excited to think about.

Information Technology.

Code on a computer screen

After all, I’d been using computers since my Commodore Vic 20, back in 1981. I used to listen to my now ex-husband talk about the IT work he did, and think to myself how i could easily do his job. Plus, let’s face it — IT is a lucrative industry. But for me, a teacher of young children and former SAHM with literally no IT job experience, switching careers was like climbing a mountain that was largely hidden in the clouds.

I started off with the goal of doing IT support. People would call me with issues, I would tell them to reboot their computers, and everyone’s happy. When I first went back to college, I knew pretty much nothing about the other branches of IT. Coding? Zip. Databases? Zilch. Networking? Nada. But one cool thing about IT is that each of these areas is somehow interconnected. The more classes I took toward becoming a tech support girl, the more I learned about the rest. Suddenly, I knew about subnets, and protocols, and network layers, and basic coding. And I fell in luv with System Administration. That was my dream job.

It was a little intimidating, at first, heading into the world of IT. There are still very few women in this industry, compared to men. Especially in the higher-up positions. I intend to change that. So does my daughter, who is preparing to study Computer Science or Software Engineering when she heads off to college this fall. *More fist pumps* When you’re working in a world largely dominated by men, you have to learn to assert yourself pretty quickly. Ask questions. Speak up when you have ideas. And study your brains out, because until female-male ratio is even, we women still have to prove our worth and competence.

Men and women in a business meeting

Today, I am a System Admin (which is pretty much like God, in case you were wondering), as well as a declarative developer (who just happens to do some software engineering, as well). I get to analyze business issues, then come up with technology-based solutions to solve their issues and improve their processes. Then I design and build those solutions, train the users, and provide ongoing support. I guess you can say I wear a lot of hats. And I like it like that.

Me at work

So, here I am. Career-Focused Single-Mom Barbie, armed with a laptop and a cellphone. It feels good to be able to use my brain every day to create systems that actually make things better for a lot of people. It also feels good to bring home a decent income, to pay the bills and support my family. Yes, I’m still a great mom. Yes, I still cook and clean our home (as do my teens). Yes, i still get plenty of me-time to relax. Whoever said that we can’t balance it all was clearly trying to discourage us. Don’t buy it.

When I look back on how far I’ve come in just a few short years, and how I managed to switch careers and land a great job in midlife, I feel pretty satisfied. It’s like climbing to a mountain peak, then looking back at where I began. I did it! Now, I get to enjoy my work while assessing that next mountain peak. It’s pretty high, half-hidden in the clouds. Just like my current job once seemed. But I’m confident that I can get there, if I just keep climbing.

The Many Flavors of Love (a Valentines Day Love List)

I love the sound of rain drumming against the roof, splashing against the pavement, trickling down the windowpane while I watch, warm and cozy indoors.

I love the way a good book transports me far away from the world I know, inserting me, like a fly on the wall, into the lives of other characters, in other places and times.

I love my three teens, who are now 14, 17, and 19. I love spending time with them, sharing laughter, traveling to new places, enjoying meals. My middle daughter is getting ready to graduate from high school soon, and head off to university. Then I’ll have three years left before my nest is empty.

I love trying new foods, and incorporating recipes from around the globe into my daily repertoire. In our house, vegetarian curries and Asian soups are just as common as spaghetti.

I love my sister and her kids. We talk surprisingly little for sisters who actually get along (She doesn’t respond to texts or phone calls often). But on rare occasions we do manage to connect, it’s pretty positive. She began her family much later than I did, so she and her husband have three very young daughters. Two of them have finally reached an age of comfort with being away from their mom and dad, so now we are beginning to have Auntie outings. Since my own kids are nearly grown, it’s really nice to be able to hang out with my young nieces. The next best thing to being a Grandma.

Fun outing with my daughter (right) and two of my young nieces (center)

I love my ex-boyfriend, who I refer to as “Z.” (The last letter of the alphabet for the last man I will ever date or fall in love with). Yes, it’s been more than a year and a half since we were together. But that means nothing to my heart. I hate that he is gone from my life. I love remembering the wonderful, though brief, relationship we had, how kind he was, and how happy we both were together.

Z and me perfect date San Francisco Japanese tea garden
“Z” and me on a couple of unforgettable dates during a weekend together in my favorite city.

I love my career. I love what I get to wake up and do every day. I work in IT, designing and building software systems that revolutionize business for many people. It’s very fulfilling (and pays well, too).

I love that feeling of euphoria I get at the end of a really intense workout or a long weekend run. Runner’s high is not a myth! Now if only we could experience that in the middle of the run, instead of the burning lungs and aching muscles…

I love writing. I especially love to write stories for other people to enjoy. If you read my stories and find yourself transported into another time and place, like a fly on the wall in some character’s life, then my job was well done.

I love a perfect cup of coffee (Decaf dark roast with cream and Splenda), or a perfect cup of tea (earl gray or chai, splash of milk, plus Splenda). Especially with a good book. Long ago, when I had friends, then sharing a perfect cup of tea or coffee while spending time with a good friend was pretty much nirvana.

Hot cup of tea

I love that this list is actually far longer, filled with music, and flowers, and candles, and soccer, and great movies, like Amelie, or Pride & Prejudice (2005), or Shakespeare in Love. I also love how this list continues to grow throughout my life, as I travel more, try new activities, and grow. Ideally, much of this list would be people-based, since really, things and experiences, while worthy of loving and enjoying, can’t love you back. (But then, I have grown quite used to not being loved back. That has never before stopped me from loving).

Whoever, or whatever you love, may you love them fully today, and every day. What’s more, I wish for you what I have always lacked most in life — that you feel fully, completely, and unquestionably loved in return.

Night Owls in Apollo’s World (aka: Morning People Get it Done)

The prettiest sunrise I’ve ever seen was during the spring of 1994, in Cocoa Beach, Florida. There was something magical about the way the deep sapphire sky suddenly began to blush brilliant streaks of coral and rose, while I stood in the glistening waves of the Atlantic, watching nature’s show.

Maybe that was the moment I became a morning person.

After that first and best of all sunrises, I began to appreciate more about the peaceful moments of early morning. The way mist skimmed along the surface of mountain lakes. The quiet stillness, like a blank canvas to organize my thoughts for the day. The sweet trill of the early bird, greeting me outside my window. Morning is here! A fresh day! New opportunities! Ahh, mornings, embracing me as I throw my arms wide, spinning beneath the beautiful, pale coin of sunrise. The world is new again, and mornings and I are one.

Until…THWACK!!

The muddy combat boot of some bleary-eyed night owl whacks me in the head. “Will you keep it down, for crying out loud?” they screech. “Some of us sane people are still trying to sleep!”

Night owl with coffee saying No

Oh, night people. Worshippers of the fading, red-gold rays of sunset. Lovers of darkness, and the moon, and midnight snacks while the rest of the world slumbers. I see and hear you.

No, like I literally see and hear you. I see the annoying bright headlights flash through my window at night. I hear your noisy, raucous parties and televisions blaring long after I’ve set my own head against the pillows. If you want to be a night owl, fine. But can you at least try to make yourselves as silent and stealthy as actual owls, so as not to disturb the sleep of us early birds?

Alarm clock nighttime

I sometimes feel such pity for night owls. This world is run by and for the early risers. The go-getters. The ones who have learned to defy mediocrity and complacency, who rise before the sun to meditate, who get in their daily workouts before the others have opened their eyes, who sweep into work each day like Apollo’s chariots, ready to shine.

Morning people get sh*t done.

The night folks eventually stumble in, groggy, still shaking off the effects of last night’s greasy pizza and beer. They are not yet in the moment, still full of nostalgia for their toasty warm beds. They stare like zombies at their computer screens, re-reading the same email three times before anything makes sense, and throwing eye daggers at any chipper morning person who dares to greet them with a sunny smile.

Morning birds vs. night owls

But thank goodness for you, followers of Artemis. Because when 3pm rolls around, and we lovers of sunrise begin to lose steam, you are there. You are there to take the mantle, to keep the flame burning as the flock of morning birds packs up our briefcases and heads home to relax. We thank you for making this possible, so that we can go and drive on freeways empty of traffic, and enjoy time with our families while there is still light outside, and have early dinners at uncrowded restaurants, because we can be assured that the night owls will continue to work. We sleep better (at 8pm) because of your efforts.

We are so appreciative, dear night people, that we will continue to offer you the magic elixir that helps to bring you to life each morning when you finally drag your feet into work. Coffee. Prepared by morning birds, and sold by morning birds, who happily pocket the fistfuls of dollars you shell out for the hot, bitter brew that helps you to function each morning. Isn’t that a hoot?

Drink up, sleepy ones. Then together, let’s go and get sh*t done.

The Ah-Mazing Life of Danielle (and Annoying Audrey)

Well, Jupiter Girl is still hanging out in her cave, waiting for inspiration to strike her in the head like a rock or something. So I decided to step in and take charge of things for a while. And believe me, I am really good at taking charge. Plan your party? Manage a work project? Write your blog? I’m your girl!

Danielle and iPhone Downtown

My name is Danielle. I live and work downtown in a major metropolitan area, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I adore everything about life downtown. The fast pace. The restaurants. The nightlife. Just yesterday, I hopped on a Jump bike during my lunch break and rode over to my favorite independent coffee shop, where they make an ah-mazing pumpkin spice latte. Seriously, I don’t know how people can stand it out in the suburbs, where you have to get in your car and drive like, twenty minutes to the nearest Starbucks.

Danielle and Audrey besties

Now everybody say hi to Audrey. Audrey is my bestie. My partner-in-crime. My sistah from another mistah. I don’t know what I’d do without her. But between you and me, Audrey can also be pretty annoying. When I started going to the gym to get in shape a couple of years ago, Audrey started copying me. I lost a few pounds and felt pretty good about that. But next thing you know, she’s lost a ton of weight, gotten super strong, and now she’s a fitness instructor. Seriously, Audrey?

Danielle and Audrey gym rats

It’s like it’s her life goal to show me up. I bought a sleek little downtown condo last year and adopted a cat. So what does Audrey do? She buys a ginormous house out in the ‘burbs, and adopts a cat plus two cocker spaniels. So extra. And then this summer, I text her some photos of me relaxing by the pool. So of course she has to show me up by traveling all the way to the beach.

Audrey at the beach

Ok fine, to be fair, she did invite me to go with her to the beach. But I couldn’t get away from work. You see, I have a very busy job. When I was a girl, somehow the idea became engrained in me that I could do anything. I could become a pilot, or a veterinarian, or a lawyer. But I had more exciting ambitions than that. So I studied computer software engineering, and went to work for the U.S. government on a top-secret assignment. I get to work with ah-mazing technology and even travel the world.

Danielle working outdoors on her computer

But don’t tell Audrey. She thinks I’m just an accountant.

Wild and Precious…and Lukewarm (aka: Goal-Setting)

One Wild and Precious Life

For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the 5-yr. life plan I wrote several years ago. Because you know, sometimes it’s good to give your life a check-up, to see how you’re doing on achieving your goals, and to adjust them as needed. Three years into my (very sparse) plan, here’s what I’ve managed to accomplish:

Career: I graduated from college, adding two very useful Computer Information Science Degrees to my useless B.A. degree. Check! I obtained a great job doing something I actually love, which has a great salary and benefits. Check!

Future career goals: I just happen to be really good at my job, and continuing to climb the ladder is inevitable, as long as I keep learning, staying ahead of the curve, and adding value to the agency I work for. Within five years, I hope to still be doing what I love, but perhaps in the private sector, where I can make more money, travel for work, and work remotely. I’d also like to see at least one of my novels published.

Financial: I like to keep these goals private. But my plans are positive and practical.

Social: Still nada. With the exception of the wonderful man I dated just over a year ago, I have been without any friends for more than seven years.

Future social goals: I’ve given up on the idea of my anemic social life changing, and decided to just embrace the “only” life. It can be lonely, having no one to call and chat with, or invite out places, or share joys or sorrows. But this has been my life for so long now, that I figure I can survive it indefinitely. Once in a great while, I go out to a Meetup with groups of strangers, to chat in a restaurant or go for a hike, just to pretend like I have some sort of social life. Sometimes, this is even fun.

Family: Five years from now, I will officially be a single empty nester. One kid is already a young adult, with his own life. One is a high school senior, on her way to university next fall. And the youngest has begun high school. So I guess my goal is to just keep loving and supporting them until they’re on their way. After that — who knows?

Future family goals: Well, I guess five years from now, I will be my own family. I would like to have a dog, if my lifestyle allows for it then. I would also like to continue supporting my grown children from a distance, as they start their own independent lives. I can totally see myself living somewhere far away from here, too, since I will have nothing left to keep me here. Seattle, maybe? San Francisco? London? Maybe a new location every year, if my work enables that kind of mobility. But these are all desperate ideas, since I’m honestly clueless about how to plan my future family/self goals. I guess I don’t really know what I should want.

Heading somewhere maybe who knows?

Health: I’m still doing what I should. I exercise daily (running a lot, going to the gym, and occasional tennis Meetups). I eat a mostly plant-based flexitarian diet. My weight is still in the ideal range, and my clothes fit well. I sleep regularly, see the doc regularly, my iron levels are finally within normal range, so my hair is growing again. Yay! I focus on self-care. I don’t have any bad habits to break. I feel good, and content, and just happy enough, most of the time.

Future health goals: I guess I just want more of the same.

Relationship: Last year, I had a wonderful, fulfilling, far-too-short relationship with the man who was perfect for me in every possible way. I pictured a future with him. I pictured an amazing future with him.

Future relationship goals: There will never be anyone who can take his place. I have zero interest in even trying. I do not plan to ever be in any kind of romantic relationship or date anyone else ever again, so I can cross this one off for the rest of my life.

Travel: Luckily, my kids and I have been able to do a bit of fun traveling within our state within the past several years. Yosemite, Disneyland, lots of beaches, and plenty of great day trips and camping trips. I also got to travel vicariously when my daughter went to China for ten days.

Future travel goals: I hope to travel out of the country at last within the next five years. I just have to figure out how we’re paying for kids’ colleges first. I’d also like to return to New York City for a visit, hopefully with my kids. I’m also considering doing a RunDisney 1/2 marathon one day with my daughter, mostly because running in costume is more fun than no costume.

Somewhere in between the big goals, I sometimes throw in a small, short-term goal or two. But to be honest, I don’t have any tangible small goals right now. Sometimes, I feel like I’m running out of ideas. I already have plenty of hobbies — reading, hobbies, watching sports and movies, music, handicrafts…What should I do next when nothing else seems particularly interesting or fun or useful? It seems so lukewarm to me, to plan to do something just for the sake of saying, “I’ve done that.” Where is the joy or meaning in that? Is it just to make conversations more interesting for you people who have friends? Is it meaningful because you work toward these goals with people you’re close to?

04ca3a40-f7de-4b16-b50f-426338858658-9126-00000c3a4ee5360b

I guess I could plan to do new things just to have something to blog about, to make my blog posts more meaningful. But shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t I blog about the goal I’ve accomplished which had great meaning to me somehow? I would love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, etc.

Be! All That You Can Be! (aka: Personal Mission Statement)

got purpose

I grew up with one foot on each side of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. During the week, my brother, sister, and I lived in the east bay with my mom and stepdad. And every other Friday evening, our mom drove across the bay to drop us off at our dad’s house in the city.

 

emeryville mudflat sculpture

 

That meant a lot of time stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. A lot of time munching Happy Meals in the car, admiring the Emeryville Mud Flat sculptures through the window, and trying not to drive Mom bonkers. Once in a while, our favorite commercial would come on the radio, and we kids would belt out the jingle at the top of our lungs.

“BE! ALL THAT YOU CAN BE! YOU CAN DO IIIIT! IN THE AAAARRR-MY!”

No, none of us had future aspirations of joining the military. There was just something about those lyrics. The excitement. The passion. The promise of possibility. If you just do this thing, then you can grow to become all that you can be.

Be all that you can be. Just like I can’t forget singing that jingle at the top of my lungs as a kid, that idea has stuck with me throughout life. Each one of us was born with a certain measure of potential. We all have talents — some well-honed, some raw, and some yet undiscovered. We each have gifts, whether they are the skills we gain from developing our talents, or some special spark in our personalities just waiting to catch fire. And every one of us is capable of growing, of taming those gifts and using them to enrich our lives, and the lives of others. To achieve excellence. To be all that we can be.

Mission-Vision-and-GoalsEarlier today, I attended a leadership class in which we explored our strengths and weaknesses, passions, goals, and values. Then we took those pieces we identified and spent time crafting our personal mission statements. For many, this was a very challenging exercise; one that may take much more time to complete and get just right. For me, the pieces of the puzzle linked together almost like magic, until my personal mission statement appeared on the page; the phrase which captures who I am, what I value, and what I hope to achieve in life.

“To share my gifts with others, to live as a positive example and inspiration to those around me, to be all that I can be, and to find joy in the journey.”

That’s it. Me in a nutshell. My life’s purpose, in one neat quote.

Steven R. Covey, author of the iconic book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, considers a personal mission statement “like a personal constitution, the basis for making major, life-directing decisions, the basis for making daily decisions in the midst of the circumstances and emotions that affect our lives.” Others who tout the importance of a personal mission statement suggest memorizing it, or hanging it up in one’s home or office as a daily reminder of your sense of mission.

So how do you go about creating a personal mission statement?

  • Determine your core values. What is most important to you in life? Family? Faith? Creativity? Generosity?
  • Identify your contributions. What do you want to do? What are you passionate about? Giving back to your community? Climbing the career ladder? Raising happy kids?
  • Set your goals. Be sure that these are tangible and attainable. Which goals matter most to you?

Finally, take what you have discovered about yourself and use this to create your own personal mission statement. It may help to read some examples of other mission statements, for inspiration. Remember that there is no right or wrong mission statement. This is your baby. You own it. Also keep in mind — your personal mission statement is not set in stone. It is okay to revisit it and refine it from time to time, as your goals, priorities, and values may shift.

personal mission statement example

You will know that your personal mission statement is just right when you believe in it; when it expresses the core of who you are.  Now write your phrase on a sticky note and put it on the bathroom mirror. Add it to a bookmark. Repeat the words to yourself when you need to get back on track to achieving your goals. Or shout it at the top of your lungs like a kid on a road trip. Whatever works. Let your personal mission statement be a lighthouse to guide you home, and to help you in your quest to be all that you can be.

It’s Okay to Change Your Mind (aka: Finding Your Niche)

what-color-is-your-parachute-bookMy 15-year-old daughter recently complained that she’s not sure what she wants to be when she grows up. As she’s only a sophomore in high school, I would love to tell her to just relax; she’s got a few more years to really decide. But, being a long-range planner myself, I also get the anxiety of not knowing exactly where you’re headed in life.

She needs a “thing.”

I firmly believe that everyone has a “thing,” or a niche. Some of those niches may be better than others, though, especially when it comes to career planning.

My oldest son, who is a senior this year, has several niches: playing computer games, creating music for computer games, and listening to music on the expensive wireless headphones he decided he couldn’t live without. I am really, really hoping that he finds some way to merge these niches into some kind of lucrative career. Either that or just do what I tell him and study computer science in college next year. I’m kind of hoping he’ll find a more productive niche in that direction.

My youngest son’s niches also involve computers. His, however, also include developing computer games using simple code, like Scratch, and building complicated, programmable Lego robots. He is dead-set on becoming an engineer one day (woohoo!!). His other niches include writing stories and using his gigantic vocabulary to invent new “clean” swear words, like “Oh sheep!”

future-jobs-signs

My daughter has a lot of niches. She’s a great athlete. She draws anime and comic strip characters. She writes stories, and is constantly learning new skills, like HTML code and jazz dance. She thinks she wants to become a doctor, but is getting nervous that it’s too ambitious, or that she won’t like studying medicine after all.

“No worries,” I tell her. “Just plan to go to med school and become a doctor. You can always change your mind later.”

I should know. I’m kind of the queen of drastic changes in niches.

When I was six years old, I wrote an essay on how I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. That, and a tap dancer. The tap-dancing thing never got off the ground, but I have always been a writer. When I went to college, I was clueless about careers, and had no adult guidance. So I did the only thing I knew well, thanks to countless babysitting jobs – I got a BA degree in Child Development and went on to become a teacher of young children. Eventually, I was even a site supervisor and parent educator, too.

kids-careers-jobs-costumes At the time, it was my niche. I was great at belting out Raffi tunes, finding creative ways to teach phonics, and managing a classroom. It was also kind of cool teaching other parents how to parent. But know what? It was a boring, mindless career. And it barely paid enough to buy the gas it took to drive to work each day.

So, I changed my mind.

I returned to college to add a couple more small degrees. Then I landed my true dream job, in the IT industry. I still get to use some of my old talents, like teaching and finding creative ways to problem solve. But I also get to develop and administer software systems and databases. I get to use my brain. Which is nice, because it’s a pretty great brain, so long as I get enough sleep.

Yes, I still write. That will always be my greatest niche. I also still plan to be a tap dancer. Okay, I am totally kidding. The next time I change my mind, I think I’ll go into management. It seems kind of like teaching preschool, only you have to go to a lot of meetings, and you get paid more.