My Reaction to Old News: Women in Technology or How did I Get Here?

Marian Cook

April 21, 2015

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My reaction to old news: Women in technology, or how did I get here?

I am going to just react. Not research or interview or analyze. Just react.

I almost passed over The Atlantic article "We Need More Women in Tech: The Data Prove It." This is hardly new ground for me, but I never really slowed down to compare these kinds of articles or research to my own experience.

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So here it goes.

According to research cited by The Atlantic, Maria Klawe of Harvey Mudd College found three main issues:

"We've done lots of research on why young women don't choose tech careers and number one is they think it's not interesting. Number two, they think they wouldn't be good at it. Number three, they think they will be working with a number of people that they just wouldn't feel comfortable or happy working alongside."

Computers never seemed off limits to me. My father was a mathematician at Argonne National Labs and worked on one of the first computers in the nation. When I visited him, I played with computer paper punch tapes as a kid. Margaret Butler, a pioneering mathematician and computer scientist, was a family friend. I never thought technology was for only men, only interesting to men, unfeminine or something I couldn't be good at. It never occurred to me.

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When the Commodore-64 was introduced to the market in 1982, my Dad made sure we were the first family on the block to have one. I loved that clunker. It never occurred to me not to.

Many of my boyfriends were nerds, and we often did nerdy things together. Trekkies do attract Trekkies afterall.

So you can see how this background opened my eyes to the opportunities. Or perhaps never closed them.

Are my career experiences different than men in technology? Yes, and I have seen tremendous changes. Things that happened years ago are becoming less and less common. But lest we forget the past, let me tell you about mine . . .

Early in my career as a manufacturing systems engineer with IBM, I literally didn't drink coffee for 6 years. Any time I got near the coffee pot, everyone expected me to serve everyone else. So I just stayed away.

I am not kidding.

A factory I worked in had some very nasty porn posted very prominently on the walls.

Not. Kidding.

I have rejected cat-calls and wandering hands.


I once had a job where I had great performance reviews, more clients and higher client satisfaction ratings than my male peers, and trained men that then got promoted faster than I did. I, in a spirit of casual curiosity and gradual awakening, brought these puzzling facts up to my boss.

Darned if I didn't get promoted two weeks later.

Why didn't I quit? That didn't occur to me either. The job was very interesting, I enjoyed my colleagues and it paid well. I had a thick skin and a great sense of humor. And, since mentoring is frequently cited as a make-or-break advantage, especially for women, I should point out I was paired with a nationally recognized woman engineer to guide me.

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All of this was in the late 1980's and early 1990's.

Since my own 'awakening,' I have always given generously to organizations and opportunities to help women move forward. I have had leadership positions on women's technical professional associations like WITI, and been involved on business, mayoral and gubernatorial boards and task forces to encourage women in technology and business.

So, getting back to The Atlantic article, I grew up thinking technology was interesting, it would be a good career for me and would get to work with Trekkies and people like Margaret Butler. Adding in my female mentor and thick skin surely helped. Had any of those been missing, who knows?

Now that I think about it, I do think the author is generally right.

Things have changed. I can drink coffee with the boys without worry, and have made up for lost time and caffeine on that one. There still are wandering hands, porn and pay discrimination, although markedly less so. We also all now know that it is unacceptable and can call someone on it.

That is real progress.

Now will someone please get me a cup of coffee?

This article was previously published at Computer World -- on November 4, 2013

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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