The Only One
“This is the future,” my dad said. “I want you to learn it.” He unveiled our first computer, and I instantly became a girl in tech.
My dad didn’t need to push me into anything: I dove willingly into technology, filled with wonder, examining every corner of our Apple ][+. I was fascinated by the microchips and the modem, and I mastered the word processor in the first week.
My parents quickly enrolled me in typing and programming classes. I was the only kid there, but soon enough I was helping the adults with their class projects. By the time I took the one programming course offered at my high school, I had grown accustomed to being the only girl in the room. I undertook the art of fitting in with the boys, with whom I shared a passion for technology.
As a U-M student, I struggled to find my place. I suffered from low self-esteem, self-doubt, anxiety, and depression, wavering between Engineering and LSA before taking my sister’s advice to design my own major. I called it “Technology and Society,” comprising courses in engineering, entrepreneurship, network administration, technology policy, and screenwriting.
For the first time, I felt like I didn’t need to decide between technology and the arts: I could do both. I became an active student leader. I started making more friends—other explorers—men and women. I wrote, directed, and produced the first (as far as I know) cyberpunk stage play, Invasion of Cyberspace.
I knew I wanted to go to Silicon Valley after I graduated, so I headed west and joined my first startup, founded by a woman. My manager was also a woman. Finally, I wasn’t the only woman in the room.
Looking back now, I realize how lucky I was to have women mentors in college and in my early professional life. I read a lot about “tech’s gender problem”—how enrollment of women in computer science programs is dropping, how underrepresented women are in Silicon Valley companies, how high-tech investors are biased against women, how women are harassed in the workplace and online. It’s all real; I’ve lived it.
I wish I could say the solutions to these problems are simple, but they’re not. Women face challenges at every stage of our careers. To be a woman in tech is to rise above stereotypes, to move beyond classroom hurdles or corporate stalemates, to fight for equal treatment, and to forge your own path.
In the years since I moved to California, I’ve played many different roles—engineer, manager, entrepreneur, consultant, journalist, connector, philanthropist, blogger, advisor, investor, and now author—but I never stopped being that girl in tech. I’ve found strength in communities of other women in tech—innovators, thinkers, and polyglots like me.
I’m still filled with wonder when I explore new technologies. The difference is: I’m no longer the only one.