The first time I used a computer was at 6 years old. It was 1986 and I was introduced to my dad’s Apple IIe. It had some games on it, the most addictive for me being Lode Runner, which I played for hours. It also had Print Shop Pro on it, and my dad had a dot matrix printer, so there was much cheesy fold-up greeting card and banner printing going on.
Then, after about 2 years of playing with the old Apple IIe, in 1988 my mom bought a computer for our house. It was an AMSTRAD, it was from JC Penney, and it died almost immediately upon start up. So then we got a Packard Bell 386, unremarkable except it came with a 2400 baud internal modem — and a subscription to the Prodigy online service. Of course, equipped with a modem I didn’t have to limit myself to paid online services; I made friends on Prodigy and those friends ran BBSes. I spent hours on both, and this was back when online services charged by the minute. The only operating system I used was DOS, graphical user interfaces hadn’t even appeared on my radar. In fact, when I was first introduced to Windows 3.1, I refused to use it. I was a hardcore command line diva, and in some ways I still am, which explains my affinity for Linux.
Eventually I gave in to Windows, got CompuServe and America Online, and upgraded to a 14.4 modem. I started using the Web as soon as it became available, in 1991 or so. I remember the days when web pages were plain text, when flashing rainbow line separators were cool, and animated Under Construction logos were pervasive. I learned basic HTML at an early age and established my homestead on this wild wild web, which I’ve been defending — in some form — ever since.
When I worked for my first dot-com, I had to work twice as hard, be twice as good (actually, just for kicks, I was three times as good), and be twice as accurate to get taken seriously. And my skills were not appreciated. There was one other woman in my department, and sadly she was nowhere near as skilled, devoted, accurate, or talented as I was. But when the time came to lay people off, I got axed instead of her, because she was going out with one of the founders of the company. Because for women in the tech fields, apparently banging skills are more desirable than coding skills. I’m not trying to hate on her, I’m just pointing out that women’s job skills are not valued. Despite being the most accurate, fastest, and most skilled coder in the department, I got axed instead of the newest hire — a man. Last hired, first fired? Not if there’s a woman to take the fall.
Then at the second dot-com I worked at, I had the pleasure of being sexually harassed by my boss. Human resources told me I had to speak with my boss directly about it. In case you were wondering, uh, confronting the boss who’s sexually harassing you? REALLY awkward. A little while after that, I got laid off. In order to get my severance, I had to sign an agreement that I wouldn’t sue. Since I didn’t have the resources to get a lawyer anyway, and I needed to pay rent, I signed it.
I then decided that if I was going to do tech work, I was doing it on my own. But I still had to deal with patronizing vendors who assumed I didn’t know what components would be best in the computer I was building, or the tech support dudes that assumed I didn’t know about this Windows feature or that Java function. But I dealt with it, kept my head up and soldiered on. For the next 5 years, I did freelance computer work. Of course, I had to charge significantly less than the men in my field to get business. And when I had to collaborate with men, I always got talked down to. It’s like they just can’t help themselves. Don’t even mention the fact I was a black woman doing techie stuff. Their heads were spinning.
The tech world has a lot more women involved now, however it’s still a boys’ club. But, one of my favorite geek toy sites, Think Geek, sells womens’ babydoll shirts now. We’re making strides.