Even before it was cool, I’ve been a geek girl. I recently got in touch with an old friend from high school and as we were writing back and forth to each other, she mentioned that she was surprised that I was a computer geek. She remembered my interest in archaeology and actually, my degree is in History and Museology but I’ve always had a secret life that involved computers and electronics. Why was it secret? Let me give you a little background…
My earliest memories of electronics are of my fascination with the huge console TV in my childhood home. If you are old enough to remember, console TVs used to be a piece of furniture that sat on the floor and were usually as large as a deep freeze. Ours was pulled far enough away from the wall so I could catch a glimpse of the amber glowing vacuum tubes in the back of the TV. Of course there was a piece of particle board that covered the back but it had ventilation holes big enough to peek through. One day dad caught me taking the tubes out of the TV (luckily the power was off). I’m sure my plan was to take those tubes to my bedroom where hopefully they would become night lights. I got into a lot of trouble for that and never did it again. However, that didn’t stop me from peeking into the back of the TV to see the “pretty lights.” That was the beginning of my journey as a geek girl.
Next, when I was seven or eight, my dad would take me with him on service calls in the summer. At the time, he was working for Telefile out of California and one of his busiest calls was to the many Southwestern Bell phone company buildings in Texas. They were using punch card systems and magnetic tape machines to run their software.
Dad hated these calls because the minute he arrived on the computer floor, the users would immediately say something like: “It’s still doing the same thing it was last time.” or “It’s too difficult to use.” or “It’s a piece of junk.” When actually, the problem was operator error and the fact that he always had to clean things like pencils, bobby pins, paper clips, etc. from the deck gate. He only had to take me a few times to make his point.
He would calmly listen to how much the users hated the machine and then he would take a deck of punch cards and ask me to go run a test. I would then clear the machine of any debris, load the deck and run the series. After the successful run, Dad would say: “Hum, maybe it was just having a bad day.” He would then clean the machine, run a few tests and invoice the company. The users started learning how to use the machine properly after that. I started developing a desire to work with computers...that was what I wanted to do when I grew up. However, the world didn’t seem ready for a geek girl in my corner of the world.
Next, Dad introduced me to the Telenet. That discovery broke my brain. He showed me the crazy places that we could dial into and just the thought that on my terminal I could see information from a computer across the country was like SciFi! This geek girl would have spent hundreds of hours on Telenet but long distance charges were through the roof.
In high school I told my dad that I wanted to study computers. At that time, if you didn’t go to MIT or UC-Berkley, there just weren’t any 4-year universities offering computer science. It was still considered junk science by most universities. Dad wanted me to have a full degree. Plus, he knew that being a geek girl, I would have a very hard time making my way in the world of computers. So, he started discouraging me from thinking of computers as a profession. I’m sure the heartache of loosing his own computer business added to his hopes that I would never pursue a career in computers.
I just couldn’t get computers out of my blood. When I first entered college, I studied Architecture. Why? I have no explanation. I did, however, find a new interest: the AutoCad programs the Construction Science guys were studying. I loved AutoCad, but I was facing a academic suspension at the end of my second year. As I’ve mentioned before, that was when I discovered that I was dyslexic. It took me 2 extra years, but I graduated and moved on with life. I continued my life as a secret geek girl.
Later, in the 90’s, my Dad introduced me to Linux. It was the coolest thing I had seen in a very long time. He sat me up with a Red Hat system and I “played” on it for a few years until my children started walking and talking and I got too busy to maintain the computer. In the last few years, I’ve gone back to Linux and I do everything on an Ubuntu system. I am definitely a Linux Lover.
I’ve spent my whole life surrounded by computers and until Windows 8, they made more sense to me than people did. I don’t know how many hours I spent playing DOS games and Atari and I still do (when I get the time). I love the logic behind the machine. At its most basic level, it is truly elegant. When I was a young fry and even today, I feel a sense of magic or alchemy in the computers and electronics around me. CPUs that people take for granted blow my mind! The fact that mankind is capable of building such an incredible piece of hardware is amazing and no one really takes notice. They just complain if their computer or smart phone is glitching…
Well, that is how I became a secret computer geek. These days I just let my geekiness show. Hopefully more girls will find their way into computers and electronics and I will help where ever I can.