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.

In the Dark (aka: Hiding From the Black Mirror)

Quick! Come inside and close the door. Yes, I know it’s dark in here. No no — don’t touch that light switch! Here, sit close to me, and I’ll light a few candles. Better?

Why are we whispering? Well, it’s a complicated story. It all began about two weeks ago, when I discovered this television show on Netflix. It’s called…here, I’ll write it down for you:

BLACK MIRROR

black-mirror-logo

Shhh…don’t say it out loud! Are you nuts? They’ll hear you!

Oh, now I’m being paranoid? Well, you would be, too, if you’d seen the horrors I saw. Every single episode. All four seasons. I can’t believe I made it through alive.

White Bear

How do I explain Black Mirror? Well, it’s so real. And yet, somehow, not real. Imagine our everyday human lives and social experiences becoming so intertwined with technology, that we become dependent on it. Imagine technology determining where you will work, what neighborhood you will live in, who your friends will be. Imagine parents following their children’s every step via an app. Or having the ability to record every memory, every moment of your life, and being forced to recall those moments for other people. Imagine someone stealing your DNA, then using it create a digital copy of you. Imagine being spied on by an organized group of hackers, who then blackmail you into committing atrocious acts while they watch.

Entire History of You

That is the world of Black Mirror. Or is the the real world, as reflected by Black Mirror?

What’s that? You want to watch Black Mirror, too? Have you learned nothing from this conversation? Well, okay. It’s available for your Netflix bingeing pleasure. But here’s a tip: don’t try to watch it all at once. A couple of episodes at one time are enough to leave you disturbed and anxious. Also, feel free to watch it out of order.

Hang the DJ

What’s that? Which episodes were my favorites? Tough question. Here’s my Top 10 ranked list, from best to worst.

  1. Hang the DJ
  2. USS Callister
  3. Nosedive
  4. White Bear
  5. Shut Up and Dance
  6. Be Right Back
  7. San Junipero
  8. Metalhead
  9. Arkangel
  10. The Entire History of You

Ack! What are you doing? Put away that iPad! If you’re going to watch Black Mirror, then you’ll have to do it somewhere else. This is now a technology-free zone. Yes, I’m serious. No cell phones, no tablets, no Alexa, no IoT devices of any kind allowed here in my safe space. Got it?

Oh, it’s just a TV show, you say. It’s not real. None of those things could ever happen in real life.

*Unplugs you*

I think I’ll read a book now…

 

 

Rise of the Machines (aka: The IoT)

Imagine this: It is 6:00 in the morning, and a gentle, Siri-like voice begins to speak from a recessed speaker mounted in your bedroom wall.

“It’s time to wake up, Dave,” she says. (Your name, of course, is Dave). As the minutes tick past, and you still don’t rouse, her voice becomes a bit sharper. “Wake up, Dave,” she says, “or the alarm will sound in ten seconds.” Ten seconds later, your bedroom lights flash, and a shrill alarm begins to sound. As you finally sit up in bed, stretch, and yawn, the alarm abruptly stops, as sensors in your Fitbit-type wearable device register your alert state.

“Shall I start your coffee for you, Dave?” asks the house computer, her voice once again calm and serene. You give your consent and head for the bathroom, which triggers the shower to begin streaming water at a perfect 105 degrees Fahrenheit. As you continue your morning routine, your smart house warms your floor tiles, fills you in on the news, and informs you of traffic conditions before you head out the door for work.

Sounds cool and futuristic, right? Like some impossible, sci-fi novel dream?

The Jetsons future

“But all of those things can already happen,” says one of my kids in a bored tone. “The technology already exists for all of that.”

“Also, it would be lame,” said another of my kids, “because a hacker could just break into your smart home system and start playing jump scare sound effects or make you wake up to the Hamster Dance song.”

“Or make all your lights flash at two in the morning,” said another of my kids. “Or make your water freeze in the middle of your shower. Or change the computer voice so that it sounds like Fred Figglehorn.”

This is true. (And would be totally funny if it happened to someone who was not me). And my kids are right — most of these are not unattainable ideas, and in fact, already have the technology to make it so. If you’ve got the money, you can actually turn your house into a Star Trek-worthy, super-connected smart house where numerous electronic devices talk to each other and interact with you via your home wireless network. Welcome to the IoT, or Internet of Things, the fastest growing and hottest buzzword I technology today.

Internet of Everything

Of course, when you work in the IT industry, your tech-savvy kids tend to become fluent in current tech concepts, and the IoT is as familiar as Chroma keyboards and wireless 802.11 ac routers. They also learn to become aware of the need to secure one’s home network, smart or not, from intruders of the malicious, or just plan mischievous kind.  Whether or not you speak geek, the IoT is here to stay, and already taking a prominent role in our lives.

Mother and daughter making dinner using futuristic interface

But it is certainly not without its security risks. Just as people are slowly learning that one must do with personal computers, it is imperative to educate ourselves about the potential risk of attacks on home networks and cloud-connected smart tech devices. Not sure where to start? Check with your device manufacturers or internet service provider for ideas. Read some of the great free information provided by the FCC and others about how to protect your home network from outside intruders. Create strong passwords to protect your IoT devices. Keep software updated and patched. Need more ideas? Well, you can always ask Siri.

24 Hours Without My iPad (aka: Willpower)

We are all addicted to something. Eating junk food. That morning cup of coffee. Shopping. Exercise (I know, right? How can I catch some of that addiction?). Some addictions are clearly bad for us (drugs, alcohol), and some are completely ridiculous (collecting ceramic gnomes, sex, collecting blog followers who never even bother to read a single blog post, etc.).

I only have one addiction. Okay, maybe two, if you count black licorice Jelly Bellies. You see, I am hopelessly, utterly, irrevocably addicted to my iPad. Yes, I am sadly aware of how much I sound like a character from a cheesy vampire novel. But it is true. My iPad is my addiction. My vice. My precious. I carry it with me wherever I go. I rarely allow my kids to even breathe on its screen. And yes, I will admit it – my iPad even sleeps on its own pillow beside me while charging at night (well, otherwise that huge King-size bed is just going to waste, right?). iPrecious

But a few days ago, I had a life-shattering and horrifying experience. I was forced to go 24 hours without my electronic security blanket. 24 hours! That’s an ENTIRE DAY, peeps. 24 hours of not staring at the world through my own little window. 24 hours of not constantly sliding it open to “check stuff” and browse the web and listen to streaming music on Pandora.

“You’ll just have to exercise willpower,” said my friend, who was holding my life support machine hostage until the next afternoon. (Okay, not really. The truth is that I totally left my baby in his car on the other side of town).

Willpower. Okay, I thought. I can do that. I excel at willpower. Willpower is my thing. Cue music: I Will Survive by Glora Gaynor.

Steve Jobs my superhero

Steve Jobs: aka my superhero and the birth father of my electronic “baby”

So I get home, ready to cook this great Potato-and-Chickpea curry recipe I had discovered. But then I remembered – duh, virtually every recipe I use ever is online, and I usually prop up my darling iPad on the kitchen counter while cooking (and streaming music, of course). Ugh. I was forced to use my laptop computer, which just Is. Not. The. Same. At. All.

I had to use my laptop to access my eTexbooks and do homework, too. And to “check stuff,” and to browse the web, and even to watch a television show on HuluPlus. But I refused to let my laptop sleep on the bed next to me.

The next day was tough. Still no iPad. I had no choice but to use my iPhone to take my turn on Scrabble, my iPhone to check email, and my iPhone to browse Tumblr as I drank my morning coffee. I even had to plug my earbuds into my iPhone in order to listen to music during my train ride to work. Sadly, the Kindle was basically unreadable – how the heck do you phone-addicted people manage with such a tiny screen? I was practically cross-eyed by that afternoon, and going through clear withdrawal symptoms. I’m pretty sure that my hands were trembling and everything when my friend finally placed my electronic drug back in my arms. I may have even kissed the screen or something, but I was too out of it to remember.Ran_Dumb

But I learned a couple of important lesson during 24 hours without my most prized material possession:

  1. iPads are waaaaayyy better than iPhones.
  2. It actually is possible to survive 24 hours without an iPad provided you have a couple of backup drugs – I mean, computers, available to fill in temporarily.
  3. I’d still rather be an iPad addict than a ceramic gnome collector.
  4. That curry recipe was really delicious.

Wait…I think that I was supposed to learn some sort of valuable lesson about self-sacrifice and willpower, so that I, as a writer, can enlighten my readers (all two of you) about the benefit of giving up addictions. But what I actually have to tell you is this:

  1. Willpower is really stupid unless you need to use it for something worthwhile, like weight loss or increasing exercise, or getting your homework completed (which I did not, because I was too distracted by the 24-hour hole in my life). So don’t waste your willpower on giving up your addiction if your addiction actually adds value to your life.

Enough writing. My Precious and I have some serious catching up to do.

 

My Geektastic Life (aka: Why I am Not a Nerd)

Nerd AlertFor starters, I am not a nerd. Got it? Yes, okay, so I used to compete on a forensics speech and debate team in college. And yes, I have read the Harry Potter series seven times and even have my own homemade quidditch robes. And fine, I was once captain of my school spelling bee team, and it was my (sadly unfulfilled) dream to attend the Scripps National Spelling Bee. But that does not make me a nerd! Revenge of the Nerds Tri-Lambs

Look, I have nothing against nerds. I am not a geek-a-phobe. I have known some very nice and interesting nerds in my life. Like back in middle school I was closet-friends with this guy named Michael. He dressed like Steve Urkel and I swear he probably grew up to join the Tri-Lambs. I couldn’t be seen with him around campus, of course, but he and I were the only ones in the computer club (and probably the whole school) who knew how to operate the Apple IIe. When no one was looking, he and I had a great time playing Summer Games and Karateka (Omg, Karateka was the best!).

But I can’t possibly be a nerd. For starters:

  1. I have never attended a Con. That is like a serious prerequisite to being a real, live nerd.

 

  1. I do not read comic books. Okay fine, I used to read Archie and Betty & Veronica. But that doesn’t really count.

 

  1. I have loved computers since before they were cool. So doesn’t that make me less of a computer geek and more of a techie hipster?

 

  1. I do not own Alienware or any type of badass gaming computer. (But I do have plans to build one soon, so maybe I should earse this one from the list)

 

  1. I am physically coordinated. I play soccer. I dance. I am athletic. I even like to watch sports. So I’m pretty sure the nerds wouldn’t even let me into their club for this reason alone.

 

  1. I am way too hot to be a nerd. ‘Nuff said.

Sexy Nerd

So you see, that proves it. I may geek out about GPUs and geocaching, I may be the Queen of Scrabble, and I may just happen to work in the IT industry, but you’d better think twice before slapping that Nerd bumper sticker on my back, or else the next virus you catch may just be on your PC.

I’m kidding, I’m kidding! Haha…see? Sense of humor and everything. I’d make a terrible nerd. Evolution of the Geek