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.

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.