A story to tell your daughters.

Once there was a girl who was cut loose from college early, shiftless and aimless and with no great ambitions. Her plan was to become a starving artist.

She fell into a boring desk job at a software company. Her desk was in the hall and she answered the phone, took notes in meetings and sorted the mail. At home after work she would paint and draw and walk to the Char-Grill for milkshakes and fries.

lisa-in-the-hallShe was very curious about the work in her office, even if being in an office seemed boring and restrictive. She became the best at taking meeting notes because she tried to understand what was being discussed, and asked people passing in the hall what the jargon meant, or about basic concepts such as what a microcomputer is, or how a token ring network works.

Everyone around her seemed encouraging, or at least the technical people did. Sometimes the other admins on her team were obviously jealous, although she was proud to be part of a team of competent and cooperative women.

Over time her curiosity about technology became consuming. She found chances to learn technology that would allow her to make art and to design useful items for her department. She took pleasure in being adept with first her mainframe terminal and then with a page layout program on a Mac in the shared lab. She felt bitterly jealous of the first person on her team to get a UNIX workstation and was excited on the day her 3270 was replaced with an HP-UX “snake” workstation.

There was never any question in her own mind that she could learn anything they wanted her to, or that she had access to. No one was ever discouraging. No one made jokes or comments about women not being able to use computers, or not belonging in IT. After all, the head of MIS was a woman, and there were women in technical roles throughout the organization.

Eventually she felt a pressing need to learn how to write code and to pierce what felt like a glass wall between her and a deeper technical world with greater power to create more interesting things. Her manager capitulated and let her take a SAS class.

The head of MIS requested that the girl be reassigned to help the admin supporting MIS, rescuing her from an overwhelmingly stressful set of duties that rarely allowed her to use her new SAS programming knowledge. After a few weeks in MIS with little meaningful work, she became bored and started to learn HTML.

When the new intranet team was formed within MIS, she was assigned to work on the team with only technical duties. After a short time she had enough technical experience to qualify for an entry level System Administrator position and her move to a technical career was official.

Although one of the other intranet team members was the most difficult person she ever worked with, and although she was the only woman on the team except for her new manager, and although of course imposter syndrome ravaged her (not that anyone used that name for it at the time), she was still encouraged and mentored by everyone on the team. Even the difficult person.

She never left the company or indeed the intranet team, eventually becoming its leader. There was only one time in 25 years that a male co-worker made her feel as if she did not belong. Years later, he apparently had revised his opinion of her, as he told her next new manager that she could do anything she set her mind to.

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