Women in Tech: A Gender Anomaly
I’m a techie. I have been since I grew up with a home computer from the age of ten on. I’ve never been without a computer since 1980. I learned to code in Basic as an eleven year-old. I learned to code in COBOL as a teen. (Isn’t COBOL dead now? I think I read its obituary a decade or so ago!) I learned to code in some 4th generation languages in the 90s--primarily Visual Basic which I used to build databases. I was on the internet before there was really much out there--in the late 1980s. I remember listservs and even though that is ancient technology, it still isn’t quite dead. I now fly drones on a commercial level. I’ve been certified to do so by the FAA since 2016.
My first gender slap in the face happened when I was twelve years old. Apple had just introduced the Apple II computers. I went to a private school for gifted children, and we were fortunate enough to acquire two of them. I don’t know if the computers were purchased from the tuition money that our parents paid, or if there was some grant writing involved, but it was super exciting for little geeky me. I had a Texas Instrument computer at home. If I wanted to save any of the work I did, I had to record it to a cassette player. No floppy disk and saving took forever. If any of you are old enough to remember the annoying dial up sound you heard when the internet was still in its infancy, this was that very same sound, but for a much, much longer period of time. Even for simple procedures!
I was in public school until seventh grade. After I was accepted to the gifted school, I was excited on both an academic and social level. The academics were exactly as promised, and then some. I became a huge fan of the humanities, and I learned that I had a very particular penchant for foreign languages. The slap in the face happened when the new computers arrived to our science class in early 1982. I was already coding by then, and I loved computers and could dream of a million different ways to use a computer.
Our science teacher was excited too. The day we got them in and they were set up, he said to the class, “Boys, come here! Look at this!” I guessed I must have missed the “boys” part of it in my own excitement, and I hurriedly joined my classmates (all of them boys because the other girls apparently didn’t care) to take a look and gawk over the shiny goodness. The science teacher looked at me coldly, and said, “Are you a boy? I asked the BOYS to come over.”
Sadly, I was cowed by this and even more sadly I didn’t stand my ground and went back to my seat.
For me, I was a brainiac, and computers came easily. I was building my own databases on my Franklin (Apple clone) in the late 80s and early 90s. Nobody ever told me that this was “hard” or that you needed training to do it. I just did it because I had a use for it, and I enjoyed it.
Fast forward a decade: As a single mother, I got a job at a call center. There was a tech section, and they were paid a dollar more an hour. I was hired as a Spanish (and occasionally French) operator and got paid a little extra because of my language skills, but I wasn’t a technician, initially. Whenever someone in an account I wasn’t trained in needed a foreign language operator, I was taken from my phone and went to them. I was constantly needed in the tech section, and just by helping them out so often, I learned their accounts too, and became friends with them. At that time, there were only two female operators. I became friends with them, and when it became apparent that I no longer needed help with the one account (I remember the account well--it was the Sony Universal Remote account), the two women and several of the guys in that department, including one of the supervisors talked me into applying for a tech opening. I applied and I passed the test, except for the automotive part (I can change my oil, a tire and even swap out spark plugs, but I know NOTHING outside of those basics.). When I passed and had my interview, the interviewing supervisor basically accused me of CHEATING and getting answers to the test questions because...I was a young female who wore dresses and heels and kept my nails painted. Solely because of that. I really needed that $1 an hour raise, so I didn’t get mad in the interview, but it did crush my soul a bit. I assured that supervisor that I knew so much about building houses because I’d been around it all of my life and that I was a techie by nature and knew COBOL and Basic already. I pointed out that I failed the automotive section because I knew next to nothing about cars, but I definitely had experience and a natural aptitude. I got the job. However, I got a lot of sexist remarks there. I was young and newly divorced. I got hit on regularly. The one comment I can’t shake is, “How come you don’t wear short skirts like you used to wear?” I stopped dressing up as much because I wanted to be taken seriously. The technician job was second shift and as a single mother, I kept applying within the company, for a day position. Fortunately I got promoted to human resources, so I wasn’t in that environment for too long.
I guess I held mostly traditional “female” jobs after that, although I did have a stint as a PC Support Analyst. Absolutely no sexist things with that job, but I was still climbing the corporate ladder, so I went on to be executive assistant and paralegal after that.
I was out of the tech field for a good decade when we got our first drone in 2015. Initially I was very against the idea because I knew the brunt of the work would fall on me, I was working full time at a legal assistant job I hated, I was dealing with serious autoimmune issues, and I didn’t have the energy. Still, my husband thought it would be a great idea. About the time he decided we should fly the drone commercially, I lost my legal assistant position and we studied together for the FAA 107 remote small drone test because with autoimmune, and the fact I was a cannabis patient in the State of Illinois, my full-time job prospects didn’t look so promising. He didn’t pass the exam, but I did. All we needed was for one of us to pass, and that fell on me.
Hubs is now the marketer and business coordinator for our drone business, Peoria Drone Video & Photography and I’m the pilot-in-command (PIC) and technician, troubleshooter, video editor, etc. Here is where the next pieces of sexist comments come into play. (And here is a link to our latest video. Feel free to subscribe to our YouTube channel. Winters are slow, but we upload fun stuff here and there.)
Mind you, I’m now 50 years old, and these things don’t hurt my feelings quite as much as they used to, but they are still there, and they need to be addressed because we need to recognize at some point how valuable we are to society, no matter our gender identity and skin color (skin color is another item I’ll get to in the future). I get a lot of, “Oh your husband has his pilot’s license?” When I respond “No, but I do,” people give me bizarre looks. Most of those looks come from men, though women sometimes give me the stink eye too.
The one that stung more was when I went to re-certify for the 107 in November --you must re-certify and take an exam every two years to retain your remote drone pilot license--and the proctor was a woman. It went down like this: “How cute, do you sell drones?”
“No ma’am, I fly them commercially. It’s my livelihood.”
I was met with incredulous silence. Really? STILL!?! Women are as capable as men, and we should all know that we are. Sometimes more so! I joined a local RC Modelers group. All men. I did not feel at all welcome there, so I stopped attending. I just can’t believe that the stigma of being a woman is still an issue in technology and science fields and I want to be part of the solution to that problem. I know it starts in grade school and middle school. I’m actively looking for opportunities to mentor young women in technology, so please keep me on your radar if you know how to help. STEM girls rock!