Saturday, July 27, 2013

It Wasn't Invented Yet

A video posted on social media by one of my favorite Nerd Girls recently triggered thoughts about what I have seen - and worked with - since becoming involved in the IT industry as a work choice.

I am what used to be a rarity in the IT workplace:  Female.  Nerd Girl. Geek Girl.  Take your pick.

My first IT job was Help Desk/Desktop Support in Technical Computing at an R&D Center.  Why did I get that job?  Simple.  When the Help Desk person was out of the office, as the department secretary for the computing group I took over the phones.  I was supposed to take messages then pass them on to the technician to take care of.  I knew the answers to most of the questions that some 400+ scientists were asking, so instead of an expected ten calls for the technician to take care of, there were only two.  The two managers that I worked for noticed, particularly the one who was running the Technical Computing department.

Did I mention the tech was also female? At the time, IT was an industry was very much a "mens club."  Women were out there, but not typically when it came to slinging hardware. 

When I successfully built my first home computer and was discussing the finer merits of having to set the right combination of jumpers and dip switches for the hard drive to boot as master with the designation of C:\ instead of D:\ or E:\, a plan was hatched.  Within a year or so after dodging a reduction in force, there was an opportunity to make a change where half of a head count was traded to the IT department so the company could put me where they thought I would do the most good for the business.

My "unofficial" career started when I held the title of clerk, these things were in an around in the office:

Floppy Disks: 7 1/2" diameter or 5 1/4" in SSSD or DSDD format
Memory: measured in kilobytes and 640kb was the absolute most you could have.
Hard drives were measured in megabytes and they were luxury items. 
The operating system was DOS, and there were two flavors:  MS-DOS or PC-DOS
Local area networks were token ring and running on DOS-LAN Services
Most workstations consisted of a monitor and a keyboard hard wired by coax to a mainframe
Word Processing was done on a Word Processor System produced by Wang.
Personal Computers starting to become something that was not just for the office.
Pay Telephones were outside the buildings

In the two short years later, before my career became "official" with the first IT job, these things were in and around the office:

Floppy Disks:  5-1/4" and the newly arrived 3-1/2" format
Memory:  still largely measured in kb, but with the option to address the upper 641-1024kb by some fancy config.sys and autoexec.bat finagling.
Hard drives: still measured in megabytes.  A 40mb hard drive would take about $300.00 out of your wallet.
Operating system:  MS-DOS 6.0, IBM's OS/2 for servers, and <gasp> the new Windows 2.0
Local area networks were introduced to ethernet technology and network level operating systems heated up the competition for DOS-LAN services with the likes of Novell Netware.
Word Processing:  Word Perfect 5.0 and Ami Pro, and Lotus 1-2-3 for spreadsheets
Personal Computers: IBM introduced the PS/2 system for home use.
Processors:    Intel introduced the world to x86 processors, starting with the 286, followed by the 386SX and DX processors, and Motorola had the PowerPC processor.

What still didn't exist? Broadband, Fast Ethernet, CD's, DVD's, MP3's,  wireless networks, and a multitude of now commonplace network and internet paraphernalia like debit cards, smartphones, or Windows NT Server.  Connections to other networks were gained by creating trusts between servers or using dial-up modems at the rip-roaring speed of 28.8kbps.  If you had a fast modem, it was a smoking 56.6kpbs dialing speed demon.

In the years that followed, I watched the Internet explode.  Because of the company and people I worked with, I was able to be right in the middle of it.  It seemed I was always running with my hair on fire, but I loved every late night server-crashing-virus-chasing minute of it.

I was blessed to get to know more Nerd Girls.  We did strange things like challenge the support techs at Word Perfect who's knee-jerk reactions to our macro programming questions were "You can't do that," to which we challenged "But this works right up to this step, we just need this line to function and the whole script will work.  What do you mean we can't do that?"  (Pat H.)

We walked through the buildings, resetting MUX and manually backed up the mainframe to tape once a week (Judy R. and Sam D).  We took care of the e-mail system compacted the huge database on the mail server so it wouldn't collapse (Gina T).  We would spend Saturday nights upgrading and fixing servers (Suzanne W, Regina O). We learned new technology on the fly to ensure projects could be delivered on time when there were holes in staffing (Sheryl S) simply because we loved working on new stuff and figuring it out.

We helped each other learn, we celebrated our successes,we broke a few barriers by becoming among the first women to hold senior engineer and architect titles in segments of IT in the company's history.

And we laughed.  A lot.  It was often the only thing left that saved our sanity at 3AM while trying to resuscitate a business critical system before the start of the day.

Oh, we're still out there today, geeky and nerdy as ever.  We marvel at technology advances, catch ourselves drooling over the latest gadgets, and are ever eager to figure out what it takes to make them run, what it takes to break them, and on occasion, what it takes to break into them.  Over the years our job titles have changed.  These same women have monikers like CIO, senior technical consultant, architect, disaster recovery specialist, director, senior manager, senior forensic security analyst, consultant, and business owner.

Don't get me wrong, I mean no disrespect to men.  The more saavy fellows welcomed us into their technical playground and joined in our laughter.  In the 1980's and 1990's as women, we had to prove ourselves worthy of being in the technical end of IT and earn our spot.  We knew we were cutting paths for other women to follow in this nation as a whole.  All I'm saying is I am proud to have been a part of it.

Cheers, girls!