For Ada Lovelace Day, I was all set to write a post on making the tech industry more welcoming to women. I was almost done with that post when I decided that it was the wrong focus for today. I want to celebrate inspiring women in tech. Instead of picking from a slate of relatively well-known women or scrounging together some research on lesser known ones, I thought I’d target some people closer to home.
My mother and her sister.
I could say that a PhD in Biochemistry and a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering is enough to inspire, but there is more. Diplomas sit on walls. It is their journey to those degrees and how they live their lives that show the impact.
What was that impact? Three of my four women 1st cousins work in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). In fact, in my generation, if you earned a college degree, the men were less likely to be in STEM than the women.
That is an impact.
Neither had an easy road to their degrees. My parents married after two years of college at Auburn University. They had been dating 3 years and made the decision to get married after an engagement of a week. They only waited that long as they needed to get legal permission from my Dad’s parents. Needless to say, my mother’s parents were not thrilled with such a quick process. Afterwards, my Grandfather Jones told my mother,
Old enough to get married, old enough to pay for college.
Of course old enough did not equate to rich enough. My mother had to drop out of school and get a job. She wouldn’t return to school in earnest in 15 years after my brother and I were both in grade school. My father, being a Naval officer, forced us to move quite a bit, but my mother managed to squeeze in her Bachelor’s degree in Virginia Beach. We stayed in town an extra year with my dad living by himself commuting home on the weekend from DC in order for her to finish her degree.
After two years in DC, we returned to Virginia Beach where my mother earned her PhD. This also involved multiple cities for my parents for two years while she finished her research thesis, becoming a Doctor of Biochemistry.
[Fun Fact: My father was always on a Navy ship during finals. Strangely convenient for him.]
Her younger sister, Aunt Jackie, also had a long route. She married young, had a daughter, and became a single mother. Things were not easy for her. When I arrived at Auburn University, she had made her way back to school and was wrapping up her degree. She finished it up and has been working as an engineer ever since.
Tech In Action
These women serve as an example to all the women and girls in our family in the same way my Great Aunt Nancy served as an example for them. Aunt Nancy was also an engineering graduate of Auburn University and spent her career up in Huntsville, AL, The Rocket City. Space Camp anyone? Of course, there was more to it than simply degrees or careers. Aunt Jackie has mad skills with puzzles and my mother…
My mother got me into computers.
When we moved back to Virginia Beach and she started her PhD program, she needed a computer. She had to dial into the school for her Biometry class so we went out one Saturday afternoon and bought a computer. The Panasonic Senior Partner wasn’t the best computer out there, but it met her needs.
I learned to code three languages on that old, bulky, monochrome, lovable device.
My mother was the master of that computer. She was the DOS expert, upgraded the memory, and picked the accessories like a real printer and monitor. When that computer was replaced, she ordered the necessary parts and built it herself. I don’t think my mother bought a fully built computer for 20 years.
[Fun Fact 2: When my mother asks my brother or I for computer help, we are both skeptical. We both know she can do it. The request is just a front for getting us to visit.]
For this year’s Ada Lovelace Day, I want to acknowledge my mother and my Aunt Jackie for inspiring the next generation of women engineers in my family. I know that they, along with my cousins Heather, Katie, and Christina, will inspire the next generation.
Now we all need to make sure that the STEM industries are a better place for the next generation than it is for the current one.