My Life in Technology

Happy Ada Lovelace Day! This a day dedicated to celebrating women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics -- STEM careers, as the cool kids call it. Today, I'm going to do something a little different and off-program: I'm going to talk about myself.

Once upon a time, in another life, I wasn't a writer or a game designer or an author. I was a woman in tech.

Not a programmer, mind -- though I could write a mean shell script when it came up. Not an engineer or a scientist by any stretch of the imagination, and while I've always been great at math, I'm infamously bad at arithmetic.

But still: In technology. I worked at a boutique IT company, and my days involved designing and testing data management systems; wrangling enormous databases with hundreds of tables and millions of entries; configuring pieces of hardware costing well into five figures. My days were filled with SQL and DB2 and WebSphere, inscrutable IBM documentation, patches and batch scripts and the deafening chill of server rooms.

I went to industry events to work at my company's booth, and took a special delight in it. Men would wander up to ask questions about our products and their features, and I'd answer them with depth and nuance. Then they'd ask for information on pricing. I would demur. "Oh, I have no idea," I'd say. "I'm technical staff."

At that moment, there was always a pause, as the man (and it was always a man) reevaluated his entire opinion of me and my worth as a human being. His eyes would spark with new respect for me -- respect he hadn't felt before, when he thought I was a woman doing a woman's (sales/marketing) job, and not a woman doing a man's (technical) job.

I loved that moment.

Nowadays, when events like Ada Lovelace Day roll around, I feel a little guilty because I'm not a woman in tech anymore. I've become a woman near tech. Tech-adjacent. A user. And it's easy to feel like I'm letting the feminist cause down by retreating into the warm embrace of a softer, artsier, more feminine career. Other women have felt a similar pressure against prioritizing family over career, or opting out of having a career entirely. 

But I refuse to let this feeling win. That feeling? It's part of the problem we're fighting against.

Ada Lovelace Day isn't about funneling all girls and women into STEM careers, and it isn't about shaming women who didn't want them or who chose a fork in the road going in a different direction.

The fact that I feel shame about winding up in a less masculine career -- or that some women feel looked down upon for becoming nurses and not doctors, stay-at-home moms instead of executives -- is a part of the consistent historical devaluing of women and women's work. (Why don't we see movements persuading more men to be childcare workers and secretaries? Because those are women's jobs, and as such pay little in cash and respect.) As a feminist, I'm not going to let that little snake at the back of my head make me feel bad about the choice I made.

Because what it comes down to is having that choice to make. Every child, every person should have the same opportunity to choose the life path that makes them happiest, regardless of gender.

And if a girl is persuaded that science and math are for boys, she won't know that she has that choice. If the subcultures revolving around technology start with the assumption that there are no women in their ranks, she won't know that she has that choice. If she never, ever sees a woman as a role model as a researcher or physicist or code jockey, she won't know that she has that choice. 

Once upon a time, I was a woman in tech. I'm not anymore. But I'm profoundly glad I knew I had that choice.

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