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.

Extraordinary (aka: No Ordinary Woman)

male female sexism A coworker and I were having a discussion about childhood antics, during which I jokingly remarked, “I’m a girl. When I was growing up, girls didn’t do things like that.”

My acquaintance responded, “Yes, well you’re no ordinary girl.”

I blinked. “Um, yeah, actually, I am an ordinary girl.”

“You know what I mean,” he said, laughing. “Because you’re into computers and stuff.”

I brushed it off at the time, which is my typical reaction to remarks which are, either intentionally or unintentionally, offensive. But later, I recalled his words, mulling them over to consider them from his perspective.

You’re no ordinary girl.

What does it mean for a man to say that to a woman? Am I to pull on my feminist hat and decide that the words carried some sexist or misogynist meaning, which must be challenged? Is it an implication that a female who is interested in, say, computers and technology, or mathematics, or sports, is somehow less of a girl, or less of a woman? In which case, one must wonder, what makes a woman an ordinary woman?

Traditional Gender Stereotypes are Ignorant

I considered my own journey over the years from girlhood to womanhood. Childhood days of playing with Barbie dolls, and climbing trees in dirty sneakers and bandaged knees. The awkward years of learning to manage trendy outfits and hairstyles, the painful sting and awe of crushes on high school boys, the thrill of cheering with friends during football games. Being a fairy-tale bride in a gorgeous princess bride gown. Sewing curtains to hang in the windows of our home, cooking homemade meals for my husband as he came home from work. The pain and wonder of giving birth to three children, then nursing them at my breast. Years of life filled with planning family outings, leading scouts, baking cookies. Playing soccer, hiking, making photo scrapbooks of my family. Teaching young children during my first career outside the home. Computer games, good books, struggling to keep house as the children grew and grew.Ordinary Woman 1960

But no…I suppose there is nothing typical about any of that.

In the end, I gained understanding. My acquaintance had developed a narrow opinion of me based on the tiny speck which is his knowledge about my life. He saw that I enjoyed computers and sports, and decided that such things excluded me from the world of so-called ordinary women. No matter. I have no need to prove my ordinariness to anyone, for I am well-rooted in one wonderful truth about who I am: I am extraordinary.

I am good, and kind, and honest and talented. I am a creative person with a zest for life and a positive outlook. I am great at a few things, and terrible at a few things (like housekeeping). I can admit and laugh at my mistakes and weaknesses, and I work hard to be excellent in all that I do. When I look in the mirror, I like what I see looking back at me. If an ordinary woman is one who must doubt herself, or live within the limits of a labeled box, chaining her self-worth to the man at her side, then no, I refuse to be ordinary. Instead, I will continue to live, and find happiness, and learn, and grow into the most extraordinary woman I can possibly be.

make the decision to be extraordinary